Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—At least 11 people were killed and 28 wounded on Tuesday during clashes between anti-coup protestors and security forces, during the first day of voting on Egypt’s constitutional referendum, according to the country’s health ministry.
Voters lined up across Egypt to cast their ballots in a vote that represents a major milestone for the country’s military-backed political roadmap implemented following former President Mohamed Mursi’s ouster last July.
A high turnout and a result in favour of implementing the draft constitution would not only inch the world’s most populous Arab nation closer towards new presidential and parliamentary elections by this summer, but would also be seen as handing a popular mandate to the military and the interim government.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Amr Moussa, head of Egypt’s 50-member constitution-drafting committee and former presidential candidate, predicted a high turnout for the vote.
“I am in constant contact with many governorates, and I am keeping updated so I can observe and broadcast the true picture on the ground from the polling stations in the different towns and cities, so I can say that all the early indications suggest that the overall turnout will be very high indeed,” Moussa said.
Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim told press yesterday that he “did not expect such a large turnout, especially in the mornings.”
Magdy Qarqar, a member of the Pro-Mursi Legitimacy Alliance, told Asharq Al-Awsat that if there were any queues at polling stations, these “cannot be compared to the ones from previous polls, nor the ones for the referendum on the 2012 constitution.”
That constitution was ratified in December 2012 by Egypt’s highest legislative body, the Shura Council, after a 64 percent “yes” vote, but which was a result of a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.
Qarqar added that the group’s “boycott campaign was going very well” and that a clear indication of this was the violence the “coup government” has been practising against dissenters over the last day.
After casting his vote in the affluent Cairo district of Heliopolis, interim President Adly Mansour urged Egyptians to cast their own votes, telling them that “this is not just a vote on the referendum, but a vote on Egypt’s future.”
“Egypt’s democratic roadmap will be completed once Egyptians vote for a new president and parliament,” he said. “Egyptians need to show those who commit acts of black terrorism that they are not afraid of them.”
Another pro-Mursi group, the Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup and Pro-Democracy Alliance, is also boycotting the vote. “Voting ‘Yes’ will bring Egypt more grief and crises,” it said in a statement. “Voting ‘No’—with coup authorities’ systematic fraud—means ‘Yes.’ A complete boycott is the only way . . . at this vital and defining moment.”
The statement added that the military and interim government were “trying to cover up their early defeat,” and claimed voter turnout was only 15 percent in southern Egypt.
The vote began at 9am Tuesday morning, closing at 9pm. It reopened today at 9am and is expected continue until the evening, likely later than 9pm, according to Hisham Mokhtar, a member of the Supreme Committee for Elections, the body set up by President Mansour to oversee the vote. He added that results would be announced 72 hours after voting ends.
Amid the heightened and polarized atmosphere, the military has deployed 160,000 troops across the country to provide security for voters, including ground troops and helicopter ambulances.
On Tuesday, a total of 294 people, mostly Brotherhood supporters, were arrested over attempts to “obstruct the vote on the constitution and clashing with security forces and residents,” a high-ranking Interior Ministry official told the Associated Press. He added that the police had confiscated home-made grenades, guns, knives and firebombs from those arrested.
The new constitution is an amended version of the Mursi-backed 2012 constitution, which was drafted by a committee dominated by members of his organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist allies.
Some of the amendments made for the new draft constitution—amendments made by a committee made up mainly of secular-leaning politicians and experts appointed by the military-backed interim government—include banning any political parties “formed on the basis of religion,” limiting the role of Shari’a law as a source of legislation, and allowing the military to appoint the country’s defense minister for the next eight years.