CAIRO (AP) — Undeterred after a day of sporadic violence, Egyptians on Wednesday lined up to vote on the second, final day of a key referendum on the country’s new constitution.
The vote is a milestone in a military-backed political roadmap toward new elections for a president and a ballot-box test of public opinion on the coup that removed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power last July.
The balloting has laid bare the sharp divisions in the nation between the supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in one camp, and the military and security forces in another, backed by a large segment of the population that is yearning for stability after three years of deadly turmoil and economic woes since 2011 uprising that toppled longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Lines formed outside polling stations as they opened at 9 a.m. Wednesday under the same heavy security that had guarded the vote on the first day, when pro-Morsi protesters burned tires and pelted police with rocks and firebombs, creating just enough tension to keep many voters at home. Health Ministry said Tuesday’s death toll reached 11.
A total of 294, mostly Brotherhood supporters were arrested Tuesday over attempts to “obstruct the vote on the constitution and clashing with security forces and residents,” a high ranking Interior Ministry official said.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media, said police confiscated home-made grenades and guns, along with firebombs and knives from the detainees.
The Brotherhood, which the interim government has branded as a terrorist organization, has called for a boycott of the vote. In its most recent statement late Tuesday, it accused Egypt’s mostly pro-military media of falsifying reports on the turnout.
“They are trying to cover-up their early defeat,” said the statement from the Brotherhood-led Anti-Coup and Pro-Democracy Alliance, claiming the turnout was a mere 15 percent in southern Egypt and vowing to continue Brotherhood rallies.
The new charter is a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote, but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 %.
Drafted by a committee dominated by secular-leaning politicians and experts appointed by the military-backed government, the draft bans political parties based on religion, limits the role of Islamic law in legislation and gives women equal rights. It also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals in certain cases.
The current government is looking for a bigger “yes” majority and larger turnout to win undisputed legitimacy and perhaps a popular mandate for the military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to run for president. El-Sissi has yet to say outright whether he plans to seek the nation’s highest office, but his candidacy appears increasingly likely every day.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.