Egypt votes on divisive referendum
Mursi and his Islamist allies of laying the groundwork for a theocracy.
Tensions with Egypt's Christians, believed to make up about 10 per cent of the population, were particularly critical during the debate. Ultraconservative Islamist satellite networks often faulted angry Christians for provoking violence, and many Christians were shocked that the Islamist leaders of the constitutional assembly had pushed the draft through even after the official representatives of the Coptic Church had withdrawn in protest.
Several Muslims voting against the constitution said they were offended at Friday prayer by imams who had urged them to vote 'yes' in the name of religion. In Alexandria, one such appeal by an ultraconservative sheik set off a street fight that injured more than a dozen people, until riot police broke it up with tear gas.
One Muslim who complained about pressure in his mosque, Ehab Abdel Hafeez, a 35-year-old salesman, said he had voted for Islamists in last year's parliamentary elections but intended to vote no on the constitution, in part because he saw
the president's Islamist supporters battling their opponents in the streets last week.
"What I saw there was savagery. They were like monsters with the dragging and the beating," he said.
"The Islamists have cut Islam to their own measurements, and it is not the Islam we know, a religion of mercy," he said. "Now we look like terrorists to the world."
The voting will be held in two phases because some judges who were required to supervise the process boycotted the referendum. The first day of voting, however, will be the most decisive, because it includes the Cairo and Alexandria
districts believed to hold the highest number of "no" votes. The constitution is likely to find more solid support in the rural districts voting next weekend.
Several voters said they had studied all 225 articles carefully and cited obscure provisions, like a clause suggesting that wages should reflect productivity instead of prices, or another about political asylum seekers.
Some had printed out copies from the Internet and marked them up in pen.Standing in line in the Abbasiya neighborhood, Ahmed Gallal said he tried to focus on the articles that were dividing Egyptians - 10 or 12, by his count.
"They did not need to create such divisions," he said."We should accept it with its flaws."
Talaat Mohamed (48) said he trusted Mursi not to abuse his powers as his authoritarian predecessors did, in part because he was a believer.
"If president Mursi did not fear God, he would be like Sadat and jail all who oppose him," Mohamed said, referring to former president Anwar el-Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981.
Others opposed to the constitution vowed to continue their protests even if it passed.
"The constitution will remain a problem, because the foundation of the house is going to be flawed," said Rami Yusef, a 23-year-old engineering student who was waiting to vote in Nasr City and is a member of the political party led by the former UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei. "The protests will go on."
But Hassaballah, also voting no, was less worried. Asked if the outcome would be accepted, he asked, "You mean by people like us, or the political people?"
"I am 45 years old," he said. "This is the first time I have voted. I think the referendum is beautiful."
New York Times