Egyptians yesterday voted for the first time since the military ousted former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in a constitutional referendum that may set the stage for a presidential bid by army chief General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
In a reminder of Islamist opposition to the army-led transition, a supporter of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood was shot dead during a protest near a polling station in Beni Suef, 110km south of Cairo. Small protests flared elsewhere.
The new constitutional text strips out disputed Islamist language, while strengthening state institutions that defied Morsi: the military, the police and the judiciary.
With no sign of a campaign against the constitution, the draft is expected to pass easily, backed by the many Egyptians who staged mass protests on June 30 last year against Morsi’s rule before his ouster. The Brotherhood has called for a boycott.
“We are here for two reasons: to eradicate the Brotherhood and take our rights in the constitution,” said Gamal Zeinhom, a 54-year old voter standing in line at a Cairo polling station.
Others cited a desire to bring stability to Egypt after three years of turmoil ignited by the historic uprising that felled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“May God bring victory to Sisi,” shouted one man as he left a polling station, raising an ink-stained finger to show he had voted.
Some said they had not even read the constitution drafted by a panel appointed by decree, but would vote “yes” in any case.
Sisi ousted Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected head of state, in July last year. His Islamist opponents say he is the mastermind of a coup that kindled the worst internal strife in Egypt’s modern history and revived an oppressive police state.
However, after a failed experiment with democracy, many are weary of the upheaval that has gripped the nation of 85 million and shattered its economy. They view al-Sisi as someone who can stabilize the country.
Al-Sisi had called for a big turnout in the two-day referendum that concludes later today. In footage broadcast on state TV, he inspected a polling station after voting began, dressed in desert-colored fatigues and wearing his trademark dark sunglasses.
The Egyptian nterior minister said turnout was strong.
Eager to get voters to the polls, the government announced a huge deployment of police and soldiers to secure the ballot.
The authorities also relaxed rules on where people can vote, letting them cast their ballots outside their constituencies.
Brotherhood supporters staged small protests in at least four cities, a reminder of the deep divisions that overshadow Egypt’s political landscape.
A small bomb went off near in a court complex in Cairo just before voting was due to begin, but no casualties were reported.
The referendum is the third time Egyptians have voted on constitutional arrangements since the uprising against Mubarak.
Overall, it is the sixth election or referendum since Mubarak’s downfall.