CAIRO, Egypt – Voting in Egypt’s referendum on a new constitution may have started calmly on Saturday, December 15, but there was no mistaking the highly charged atmosphere that has polarized citizens for weeks.
Hostility and fear of the Islamist line espoused by President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood were major reasons many voters gave for casting “no” ballots, rather than the text of the draft charter itself.
“I’m voting because I hate the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re liars,” said Abbas Abdel Aziz, a 57-year-old accountant, lining up at a polling station in Cairo’s central Sayyeda Zeinab district.
“I voted for Morsi and it was a big mistake. This constitution fails to forbid children from working and paves the way for underage marriage,” Ali Mohammed Ali, 65 and unemployed, said.
Nearby, police and soldiers guarded the front gate of the school acting as a polling station, on the lookout for any of the violence that since last month has marked protests for and against Morsi and the proposed constitution.
But in the same queue to vote there were others who backed the new charter, on what they saw as its merits.
“I have read the constitution to see if what the opposition say is true, and it’s not. It’s a good constitution,” said Enayat Sayyed Mustafa, a retired woman.
In a women-only polling station in the capital’s Shubra neighbourhood, where a large Coptic Christian community lives, a somewhat chaotic situation reigned, with women unsure of in which classroom they were supposed to cast their ballots.
Illiterate voters had to be asked out loud by organisers whether they wanted to vote “yes” or “no” to the constitution, an AFP photographer there said.
Here, too, the divisions were evident.
Sally Rafid, a 28-year-old Christian casting her ballot, said: “There are many things in the constitution people don’t agree on, and it’s not just the articles on religion. I’m voting against it.”
A veiled Muslim women in her 30s, carrying an infant son who gave only her last name, Sabbah, disagreed.
“The constitution is excellent,” she said, “and with it freedom is improving. And there are articles that deal with religion and Islamic law, which the previous constitution didn’t address properly.” – Agence France-Presse