Egypt votes in second phase of referendum


An Egyptian woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the second round of a referendum on a new draft constitution in Giza, south of Cairo, on December 22, 2012.


Mahmud Hams

Egyptians have begun voting in the second and final phase of a constitutional referendum that has caused weeks of unrest in the nation.

The constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominated body and rushed through by President Mohamed Morsi, has sparked weeks of protests in Egypt. Opponents of the Islamist party, who include liberals, leftists, and secular Egyptians, said that the draft favors the Islamists, and will create a new Mubarak-style autocracy.

The president's supporters say that the new constitution say that the new constitution will secure democracy.

About 250,000 security personnel have been deployed nationwide to keep order during the vote, the BBC reported. In Alexandria, on the eve of the vote, violent clashes broke out among protestors. According to Egypt newspaper Al Ahram, members of the April 6 movement have been detained throughout the country for op

According to the Guardian, unofficial results for the first phase of the referendum, which took place on 15 December, showed about 56 percent approval for the draft constitution. Reuters reports that all signs point to the constitution passing after today's vote, because the vote covers rural and other areas seen as having more Islamist sympathizers.

The New York Times reported that the results of the vote thus far have nonetheless surprised leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. They realize that even if the draft constitution is approved, it raises new questions about the party's popularity, which has waned since Dec. 5, when ten protestors died during clashes outside the presidential palace. 

Even al-Azhar, a major center of Arabic literature and Islamic learning, is worried about Egypt moving too much towards a theocratic state. The new constitution would give the institution extraordinary power to pass judgement on the religious merits of the nation's laws.

According to the Washington Post, al-Azhar's leaders didn't want the role, but felt pressured to accept it by a puritanical school of Islam known as Salafism which has surged since the Muslim Brotherhood gained power.  

Others fear that the Muslim Brotherhood's mandate could prolong Egypt's political turbulence could also harm economic reforms. They point to a critical loan from the International Monetary Fund for more than $4 billion, which was expected to be signed this month. The loan has been delayed because of the political unrest.

According to a report by the Associated Press, many of Egypt's Coptic Christians, have stayed away from the polls because of a campaign of intimidation by Islamists in the country's south. The move has left many Christians worried about their future under the Muslim conservatives. The Christian turnout has been low, about 7 percent in some areas, said church officials who spoke to the Associated Press. Some who did attempt to go to the polls were pelted by stones, which forced them to turn back without casting ballots.

If the constitution is approved, the Guardian reported, Morsi will call for the election of parliament's lower chamber to be held within two months. In the interim, legislative powers will be given to the upper chamber.