Vote counting has begun in Cairo and Alexandria after polling stations closed for a controversial constitution referendum that has deepened divisions in the nation.
“I do not like to predict anything until after the vote counting is complete“
– Maha Fathy,
Polling stations in half the country were tallying the results early on Sunday, after voting had been extended by four hours due to high turnout.
The second round of the referendum is to be held next Saturday, after which the official result is to be given.
In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 per cent of voters who cast ballots. A little more than half of Egypt’s electorate of 51 million are eligible to vote in the first round in Cairo and other cities.
“I do not like to predict anything until after the vote counting is complete. We have now finished with one ballot
box and the second ballot box is almost ready for counting,” said supervising judge Maha Fathy at a polling station in Cairo.
“The process is easy because it’s just between a yes or a no vote and after the counting you can get the full results
even before we send it off to the official committee,” she added.
The draft constitution is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, with the draft’s supporters saying it was a step towards democracy – and its critics saying it failed to protect individual rights.
Soldiers joined police outside polling stations to secure Saturday’s referendum after deadly protests during the build-up to the vote.
In the final hours of voting, members of the liberal Wafd party said its headquarters had been attacked by people with petrol bombs, though Salafi spokesperson Walid Hagag denied that his group were behind the attacks.
“Molotov cocktails were thrown at the windows of the headquarters,” reported Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid in Cairo. “But the attackers did not go into the building.”
The National Salvation Front, an umbrella opposition group, said it was deeply concerned about voting irregularities, but stopped short of calling a boycott. Instead it appealed to Egypt’s 51 million voters to reject the referendum.
Saturday’s referendum has driven a wedge between supporters of President Mohamed Morsi and the opposition, leading to clashes in Cairo and other cities ahead of the vote.
Egypt has been in a prolonged political and constitutional crisis since Morsi and the country’s judiciary clashed in the summer.
“The sheikhs told us to say ‘yes’ and I have read the constitution and I liked it,” said Adel Imam, a 53-year-old who had queued to vote in a Cairo suburb.
“The president’s authorities are less than before. He can’t be a dictator.”
Critics of the draft constitution say it disregards the rights of women and ignores personal freedoms. Morsi’s supporters say the charter is needed if progress is to be made towards democracy.
Egypt has been in turmoil, nearly two years after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, and Morsi’s efforts to return the Arab world’s biggest nation to normality have been hampered by what the opposition views as his autocratic tendencies.
The measure is generally expected to pass, given the well-organised Muslim Brotherhood’s record of winning elections since the fall of Mubarak. But if the constitution is voted down, a new assembly will have to be formed to draft a revised version, a process that could take up to nine months.