CAIRO - Egyptian voters hit the polls Tuesday to have their say over a
proposed new draft of the nation's constitution that may usher in fresh
elections by the summer.
The referendum marks the first time
Egyptian voters have cast their ballots since a summer coup that ousted
the country's first freely elected president and is seen as a test of
legitimacy for Egypt's post-coup leaders.
Moments before the poll
began, a violent blast resounded across the capital. The explosion took
place at a court complex in the Imbaba district, according to Reuters.
No casualties were immediately reported.
Ahead of the vote, some
expected violence in a country where political divisions run deep and
the Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled the country last year, is now
outlawed as a terrorist organization.
"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.
forces have been deployed at polling stations nationwide to secure the
vote, which is part of a political plan announced last August by Egypt's
army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi.
The transitional plan
forced Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi from power. It suspended the 2012
constitution, which was drafted during Morsi's one-year rule. Sisi put
an interim president in place, dissolved the legislature and called for a
new ruling document.
Pending approval of the new constitutional
draft, which was written by a 50-member committee, fresh presidential
and parliamentary elections are expected to take place by the summer.
believe strongly that this constitution is much, much better than any
previous constitution," said Mohamed Abou El Ghar, head of the liberal
Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a member of the
constitution-drafting team. "But a successful constitution doesn't mean
we already finished the road map."
Any irregularity in the voting
procedure would be an extremely bad sign for chances of Egypt achieving
democracy, he said, noting that voter turnout is also important.
expatriates last week cast their ballots at embassies worldwide, and
Egyptians at home are voting on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Al-Ali, a senior advisor on constitution building at the International
Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, said the proposed
constitution being voted on this week is "nominally better" for
democracy than the 2012 charter.
Some major changes are that the
role of religion has been significantly reduced and that it
"superficially provides more rights to people" and more clarity about
what those rights are, he said. But the constitution does almost nothing
to ensure those rights will be protected.
"The problem has always
been that the rights that do exist are not being enforced... and there's
nothing in this text that is going to change that," he said.
the three years since an uprising ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak
in 2011 and launched Egypt on a turbulent road to democracy, this
constitution is "just one in a long series of missed opportunities,"
This week's vote, however, is not as much about the
charter as it is about the legitimacy of Egypt's ruling regime, said
Mustapha Al Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University.
is the first electoral test for the transitional government following
the removal of Dr. Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brothers," said Al
Sayyid, who also teaches at the American University in Cairo.
six months, Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood-led supporters have opposed the
nation's current leaders - with Al Sisi believed to be ruling behind the
scenes - for taking charge illegally.
"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."
In a late December poll by the Egyptian Center
for Public Opinion Research (Baseera), 76% of respondents said they
intended to vote in the referendum. Of those, 74% said they would vote
in favor of the draft while 3% would vote "no," and 23% were undecided.
promoting a "yes" vote are prevalent along major streets in the capital
while opposition to the charter is less evident. And many Egyptians
will vote "yes" because they believe the passing of this draft
constitutes an important step for the country to regain stability,
"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.