January 14

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

The balloting potentially deals another heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general.

By Maggie Michael And Sarah El Deeb
The Associated Press

CAIRO — Egyptians formed long lines Tuesday outside polling stations across much of the country to vote on a new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president in a coup last July.

click image to enlarge

An Egyptian policewoman directs a woman at a polling site on the first day of voting in the country’s constitutional referendum in the upscale Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday.

The Associated Press

The balloting potentially deals a another heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was under way to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 p.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented in most voters’ lines in Cairo. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the Imbaba courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment — that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote ‘yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

(Continued on page 2)

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