A general view of mosques during sunset in Old Cairo. Egyptians have voted on a constitution drafted by Islamists that opponents say will create deeper turmoil in Egypt. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Egypt's vice-president has resigned as Egyptians vote in a
referendum that is expected to approve a new constitution
that lays the foundations for the country's transition to
democracy but will strip him of his role.
Authorities extended voting by four hours in the second and
decisive round of the plebiscite on an Islamist-drafted
constitution that the opposition has criticised as divisive
and likely to cause more unrest.
Just hours before polls closed, Vice President Mahmoud Mekky
announced his resignation, saying he wanted to quit last
month but stayed on to help President Mohamed Mursi tackle a
crisis that blew up when the Islamist leader assumed wide
Mekky, a prominent judge who said he was uncomfortable in
politics, disclosed earlier he had not been informed of
Mursi's power grab. However, the timing of Mekky's move
appeared linked to the fact there is no vice-presidential
post under the draft constitution.
In a resignation letter, Mekky said that although he had held
on in the post he had "realised for some time that the nature
of political work did not suit my professional background as
Islamist supporters of Mursi say the charter is vital to move
towards democracy, nearly two years after an Arab Spring
revolt overthrew authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. It will
help restore stability needed to fix a struggling economy,
But the opposition says the document is divisive and has
accused Mursi of pushing through a text that favours his
Islamist allies while ignoring the rights of Christians, who
make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women.
"I'm voting 'no' because Egypt can't be ruled by one
faction," said Karim Nahas, 35, a stockbroker, heading to a
polling station in Giza, a province included in this round of
voting which covers parts of greater Cairo.
At another polling station, some voters said they were more
interested in ending Egypt's long period of political
instability than in the Islamist aspects of the charter.
"We have to extend our hands to Mursi to help fix the
country," said Hisham Kamal, an accountant.
Queues formed at some polling stations around the country and
voting was extended by four hours to 11 p.m. (2100 GMT).
Unofficial tallies are likely to emerge within hours of the
close, but the referendum committee may not declare an
official result for the two rounds until Monday, after
As polling opened on Saturday, a coalition of Egyptian rights
groups reported a number of alleged irregularities.
They said some polling stations had opened late, that
Islamists urging a "yes" vote had illegally campaigned at
some stations, and complained of irregularities in voter
registration irregularities, including the listing of one
Last week's first round of voting gave a 57 percent vote in
favour of the constitution, according to unofficial figures.
Analysts expect another "yes" on Saturday because the vote
covers rural and other areas seen as having more Islamist
sympathisers. Islamists may also be able to count on many
Egyptians who are simply exhausted by two years of upheaval.
Among the provisions of the new basic law are a limit of two
four-year presidential terms. It says the principles of
sharia law remain the main source of legislation but adds an
article to explain this further. It also says Islamic
authorities will be consulted on sharia - a source of concern
to Christians and other non-Muslims.
If the constitution is passed, a parliamentary election will
be held in about two months. If not, an assembly will have to
be set up to draft a new one.
After the first round of voting, the opposition said alleged
abuses meant the first stage of the referendum should be
But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its
investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on
Dec. 15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million
Even if the charter is approved, the opposition say it is a
recipe for trouble since it has not received sufficiently
broad backing from the population. They say the result may go
in Mursi's favour but it will not be a fair vote.
"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal
Free Egyptians Party and a member of the National Salvation
Front, an opposition coalition formed after Mursi expanded
his powers on Nov. 22 and then pushed the constitution to a
Protesters accused the president of acting like a pharaoh,
and he was forced to issue a second decree two weeks ago that
amended a provision putting his decisions above legal
Said cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting,
and said anger against Mursi and his Islamist allies was
growing. "People are not going to accept the way they are
dealing with the situation."
At least eight people were killed in protests outside the
presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals
clashed on Friday in the second biggest city of Alexandria,
hurling stones at each other. Two buses were torched.
The head of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that
represents Mursi's power base, said the vote was an
opportunity for Egypt to move on.
"After the constitution is settled by the people, the wheels
in all areas will turn, even if there are differences here
and there," the Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie,
said as he went to vote in Beni Suef, south of Cairo.
"After choosing a constitution, all Egyptians will be moving
in the same direction," he said.
The vote was staggered after many judges refused to supervise
the ballot, meaning there were not enough to hold the
referendum on a single day nationwide.
The first round was won by a slim enough margin to buttress
opposition arguments that the text was divisive. Opponents
who include liberals, leftists, Christians and more
moderate-minded Muslims accuse Islamists of using religion to
Islamists, who have won successive ballots since Mubarak's
overthrow, albeit by narrowing margins, dismiss charges that
they are exploiting religion and say the document reflects
the will of a majority in the country where most people are