Egypt: High voter turnout despite unrest
Egyptians went to the polls on Tuesday to vote “yes” on a new constitution in support for the military ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Morsi amid nationwide violence that killed 11 people, according to the Health Ministry.
Al Arabiya correspondents in Cairo’s upscale district of Zamalik and in the north-eastern city of Suez reported heavy voter turnout.
But the more densely-populated suburban areas with strong Islamist support are expected to boycott the plebiscite.
A big turnout and overwhelming “yes” vote would bolster the status of the military-appointed authorities and police by making clear Egyptians are in favor of the new political order they are part of.
For many, it has also become a vote of confidence for army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the man who overthrew Morsi in July and is now mulling a presidential bid.
“I am voting because it is not only my civic duty, but also to prove that what happened was not a coup,” Omar, 24, told AFP, referring to the July 3 ouster of Morsi by the army.
Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected and civilian president, was pushed aside by Sisi following massive street protests against his one year rule that was marred by allegations of power grabs and mismanagement of the economy.
His ouster and the subsequent deadly government crackdown on his Islamist supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood left the most populous Arab country deeply polarized.
The Brotherhood, now designated as a terrorist organization by the military-installed authorities, called for a boycott of the referendum.
Protest erupted early morning in Alexandria, Bani Suef and the Giza district of Cairo. Police responded firing tear gaz. The Health Ministry said 11 people were killed and 28 others wounded nationwide.
Meanwhile, a bomb exploded outside a Cairo court just before polling stations were to open.
The small, improvised bomb damaged the facade of the court house but caused no injuries, a police general said.
The call by Islamists for protests to disrupt the vote, however, found little favor among those waiting to vote.
“The referendum is the end of the Muslim Brotherhood. We say yes to the future and no to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Galal Zaky, a bread vendor owner.
Wafaa Louis Tawadros, a Coptic Christian, said: “The (Muslim) Brotherhood wanted to divide us.”
“So, I approve this constitution because it clearly states that Christians and Muslims are equal, and so are men and women,” she said.
Egypt’s Christian community has been particularly targeted by Islamists for supporting the ouster of Morsi. They have faced dozens of attacks since July, with many Christian properties and churches torched by Islamist mobs.
Egyptian television footage showed children flashing the victory sign as they accompanied their relatives to polling stations.
Cairo has been festooned with banners urging a “yes” vote, often featuring military motifs such as a general’s hat, an allusion to army chief Sisi.
Successive military rulers
Egypt was ruled by successive presidents drawn from military ranks until Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in early 2011, setting off three years of unrest.
“We are tired after three years of violence, bloodshed and instability. I hope this constitution ends this nightmare,” said Ahmed Othman, a 75-year-old man who leaned on his walking stick as waited for his turn outside a polling station.
In downtown Cairo’s working class district of Sayyida Zeinab, dozens of voters were seen carrying posters of Sisi as songs praising the army and the general blared from loudspeakers.
Nisreen Ahmed, a voter, said the “constitution was the foundation of a state.”
“We need it quickly and after that Sisi can become the president. The ideal thing would be to have a government and a parliament made up of men like him,” she said, her hair covered by a beige veil.