Egyptians are voting in the second phase of a referendum on Saturday to approve a controversial constitutional draft that may not necessarily lead to a smooth transition to democracy of a country that has suffered three decades of autocratic rule under deposed former President Hosni Mubarak.
Violence on Friday in Alexandria --Egypt’s second largest city-underscored tensions between Islamists and secularists who oppose the national charter in its present form. Around 58 people were injured in the clashes, the health ministry said.
The secularist camp has already questioned the legitimacy of the poll, as only 31 per cent of the electorate voted in the first round of the referendum. They are also picking holes in the fairness of the poll, citing several violations in its conduct.
The April 6 youth movement, which was at the forefront of the uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak nearly two years ago, has made arrangement to document poll violations during the second phase of polling. The Socialist Popular Alliance also planned to send 600 observers to polling stations to monitor voting. The liberal opposition disapproves the draft, which says that Sharia will remain the main source of legislation. All “matters related to Sharia” will be referred to Al Azhar, the leading authority in Sunni Islam. Christianity and Judaism will be the main sources of legislation of Christians and Jews.
Secularists have slammed the constitution because it was drafted by a 100 member assembly that was packed by Islamists. Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei has asked supporters to vote in large numbers to defeat the constitution which, if approved would destabilise Egypt. Despite the opposition’s energetic protests, it is likely that constitutional draft in the second round will be approved. Polling is taking place in largely rural areas where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood enjoys large support. If approved, fresh parliamentary elections would be held in the next three months. Already 56 per cent of those who voted in the first round on December 15 have supported the constitution, according to an unofficial count. Voting is being held in 17 provinces and the officials results are expected on Monday.
In tandem with the polling, fear among secularists is mounting that Islamists under the patronage of the Muslim brotherhood -- President Mohamed Morsy’s parent organisation—and hardline Salafists are gradually taking over the country. These deep anxieties triggered three weeks of street protests and spasmodic violence after President Morsy issued a decree on November 22 that gave him sweeping powers.
Though he backtracked from most of its provisions, the President went ahead with a two-stage referendum, despite the seething opposition. On Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badie, dismissed allegations that he had, behind the scenes, emerged as Egypt’s real ruler. He asserted that democracy was taking root in Egypt and the country was entering “a new era under an umbrella of justice and freedom that hasn't been witnessed in decades".
Turnout appeared high in Giza which has the maximum number of voters in the current round of polling, but modest in several other parts. Analysts predict less than 40 per cent polling in the second phase of the referendum.
“In the best case scenario, participation at the second round will be the same of the first. It’s not expected to exceed 40 percent,” Hussein Abu Taleb of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies was quoted as saying.