Egyptians are to start deciding today whether to adopt a new constitution backed by Islamists, including Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, or reject it as urged by the opposition, which fears it will usher in Shariah-style laws.
Weeks of protests and violent clashes between rival camps that left eight people dead last week have failed to dissuade Morsi from holding the referendum, which will be staggered over a week.
Voters in the biggest cities of Cairo and Alexandria and eight other governorates will cast their ballots today. A week later, on Sunday next week, the other half of the country is to go to the polls.
Morsi ordered the split vote because many judges are refusing to oversee the plebiscite in protest.
Islamists backing Morsi and the secular opposition ranged against them began campaigning in earnest on Thursday.
“It’s you who will pay the price if you vote yes. No to the constitution,” an online campaign advertisement by an opposition group called April 6 said.
The pro-referendum camp released videos with a song whose lyrics say: “This constitution is not too bad, it was written by a committee of heroes.”
It also has supporters holding “Yes to the constitution” placards along main roads.
The largely secular and liberal opposition sees the draft constitution drawn up by a panel dominated by Islamists as weakening human rights, the rights of women and the independence of judges.
It fears Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood together with ultra-orthodox Salafists want to push Egypt towards an Islamic state under a form of Shariah, or Islamic law.
The opposition umbrella group the National Salvation Front is urging a “no” vote — but also says it may yet call a boycott by its supporters if the referendum is not “transparent.”
Morsi’s camp says it is up to Egypt’s 32 million voters to decide the referendum.