CAIRO – As Egyptians queued to cast vote on Tuesday, January 14, security officials announced that clashes between police and protesters loyal to former President Mohammed Morsi have left at least four people dead on the first day of a vote on Egypt’s new constitution.
“There is a chance there will be a lot of violence on referendum day and it will disrupt the holding of the referendum,” said Michele Dunne, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.
"But most likely, the referendum will be held, it will carry," she said.
Tens of thousands of soldiers and police officers have been deployed to shield the vote from protest by opponents.
Just before polling started, an explosion occurred outside a courthouse in the neighborhood of Imbaba, damaging the building but causing no casualties, witnesses said.
Later on, Mahmoud Sayed Gomaa, 25, a supporter of Morsi in Bani Suef was shot dead during a protest near a polling station in Beni Suef, 110 km (70 miles), south of Cairo.
Three more people were killed during a pro-Morsi rally in the southern city of Sohag.
The referendum marks the first time Egyptian voters have cast their ballots following the army move last July 3 to depose Mohamed Morsi, the country's first freely elected president, after massive protests against his regime.
It is seen as a test of legitimacy for Egypt's post-coup leaders.
"This is the first electoral test for the transitional government following the removal of Dr. Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brothers," Mustapha Al Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University and American University in Cairo, told USA Today.
"The most powerful argument of the Muslim Brothers was that this regime is illegal, unconstitutional and does not enjoy popular support," Al Sayyid said.
"A massive approval of the constitution would be seen as an important indicator of the legitimacy and popularity of this regime, and therefore the position of the Muslim Brothers — opposing the regime — would be seen as unfounded."
Amid arrests of young activists and protesters who campaigned for a ‘no’ vote, some regard the referendum as a fake process.
"It's a fake process," Mohamed el-Baqr, a senior official at Strong Egypt, which opposed Morsi's constitution and later called for his early departure, told The Guardian.
"The choice on the ballot paper is effectively between a box for yes and a box for handcuffs."
The streets are full of billboards and signs urging a yes vote to finish the 2011 revolution that defined the Arab Spring.
The state news media and Egyptian private television networks are effusive in their endorsement of the new charter and contain scarcely a word of criticism.
“Don’t embarrass me in front of the world,” General Sisi said at the weekend, “not me personally but the military, because in the military we are as united as one man’s heart, and we adhere to democracy.”
While news reports spoke of long lines forming in advance of the poll, the numbers seemed to settle by midmorning at far lower levels than in a series of earlier ballots that have taken place since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
Egyptian diplomats said early returns from the relatively small number of overseas voters showed a low turnout, only %15.
"The constitution will almost certainly pass because those who are against it will boycott rather than show up and vote 'no,'" said Dunne, in Washington, D.C.
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