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Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Military helicopters buzzed overhead and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police were deployed as Egyptians voted Tuesday on a new constitution in a referendum that will pave the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general months after he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The two-day balloting is a key milestone in a military-backed political roadmap toward new elections for a president and a parliament after the July coup that has left the Arab world’s most populous nation sharply divided between Brotherhood supporters in one camp, and the military, security forces and their supporters in the other.

It is taking place in a climate of fear and paranoia, with authorities, the mostly pro-military media and a significant segment of the population showing little or no tolerance for dissent. Campaigning for a “no” vote risked arrest by the police and Egyptians who have publicized their opposition to the charter, even just parts of it, are quickly labeled as traitors or closest supporters of Morsi.

Some 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen fanned out across the nation of some 90 million people to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

Shortly before polls opened, an explosion struck a Cairo courthouse, damaging its facade and shattering windows in nearby buildings but causing no casualties in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba – a Brotherhood stronghold.

Four people were killed when gunfire broke out between police and gunmen on rooftops as clashes broke out between pro-Morsi protesters and security forces in the southern city of Sohag, according to security officials. Three others were wounded, including a senior police officer.

A Morsi supporter also was shot to death as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

In Cairo’s working class district of Nahya, pro-Morsi protesters shot at and pelted with rocks a polling station before closing all entrances with chains, scaring away voters and locking election officials inside, Mohammed Seragedeen, the judge in charge of the station, said.

Security forces later fired tear gas to disperse the protesters and allow voting to resume, he said.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others widely considered the freest ever seen in Egypt, including the June 2012 balloting won by Morsi. But this vote was tainted by criticism that many of the freedoms won in the anti-Mubarak revolution have vanished amid a fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that has spread to others as the military-backed administration tries to suppress all dissent.

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. It also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

The current government is looking for a bigger “yes” majority and larger turnout to win undisputed legitimacy and perhaps a popular mandate for military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to run for president this year. El-Sissi has yet to say outright whether he plans to seek the nation’s highest office, but his candidacy appears increasingly likely every day.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

Illustrating the high stakes, the government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability. Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” People have been arrested for posters and campaigns calling for a “no” vote.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days. In one women-only line in Cairo, voters sang the national anthem together as well as patriotic songs dating back to the 1960s. “El-Sissi is my president,” they chanted as some jubilantly ululated.

Manal Hussein, who comes from a village below the Giza Pyramids plateau west of Cairo, wore a dress in the red, black and white colors of the national flag. Her daughter wore an Islamic veil in the same colors.

“This vote brings to an end the era of the Brotherhood, who divided us and turned family members against each other,” Hussein said.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s yearlong rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

The balloting is the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood. A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

The Brotherhood, now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister and deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he cast his ballot.

Morsi’s supporters have promised massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood,” but protests in several parts of the country drew only several hundred supporters.

The government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. Associated Press reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians formed long lines Tuesday outside polling stations to vote on a new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president in a coup last July.

The balloting deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 a.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented in most voters’ lines in Cairo. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the Imbaba courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is also the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in different parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens of supporters. In one incident, in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, a pro-Morsi supporter was shot dead as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“This constitution is not built on legitimacy and I am boycotting the vote,” he said. “I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. AP reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians formed long lines Tuesday outside polling stations to vote on a new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president in a coup last July.

The balloting deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 a.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented in most voters’ lines in Cairo. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the Imbaba courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is also the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in different parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens of supporters. In one incident, in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, a pro-Morsi supporter was shot dead as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“This constitution is not built on legitimacy and I am boycotting the vote,” he said. “I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. AP reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians formed long lines Tuesday outside polling stations to vote on a new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president in a coup last July.

The balloting deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 a.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented in most voters’ lines in Cairo. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the Imbaba courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is also the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in different parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens of supporters. In one incident, in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, a pro-Morsi supporter was shot dead as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“This constitution is not built on legitimacy and I am boycotting the vote,” he said. “I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. AP reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians formed long lines Tuesday outside polling stations to vote on a new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president in a coup last July.

The balloting deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 a.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented in most voters’ lines in Cairo. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the Imbaba courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is also the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in different parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens of supporters. In one incident, in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, a pro-Morsi supporter was shot dead as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“This constitution is not built on legitimacy and I am boycotting the vote,” he said. “I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. AP reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians formed long lines Tuesday outside polling stations across much of the country to vote on a new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president in a coup last July.

The balloting deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people. Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 p.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

Women and the elderly were heavily represented in most voters’ lines in Cairo. The mood was generally upbeat, hostile toward the Brotherhood and hopeful that the charter would bring better days.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the Imbaba courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is also the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in different parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens of supporters. In one incident, in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, a pro-Morsi supporter was shot dead as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“This constitution is not built on legitimacy and I am boycotting the vote,” he said. “I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. AP reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians were voting Tuesday on a draft constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the nation’s Islamist president was overthrown in a popularly backed coup last July.

The two-day balloting also deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a supposed transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards urged Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters and campaigns urging a “no” vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt. While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

Shortly before polls opened at 9 p.m., an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the building’s front and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in some Cairo districts, including Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

Among scores of voters interviewed by The Associated Press by midday Tuesday, no one said he or she had voted against the charter.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is also the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in different parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens of supporters. In one incident, in the province of Bani Suef south of Cairo, a pro-Morsi supporter was shot dead as he and about 100 others tried to storm a polling station, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear who was behind the shooting.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

There was a lone voice of dissent outside another polling station in Assiut.

“El-Sissi is a killer and his constitution is void,” shouted a woman, who left the scene just before a security team arrived to look for her. At a nearby outdoor market, Hany Abdel-Hakeem was arguing with a vendor.

“This constitution is not built on legitimacy and I am boycotting the vote,” he said. “I will not participate in anything I am not convinced of. And if I say anything against it, I will be arrested. Keeping silent is better.”

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

El Deeb reported from Assiut, Egypt. AP reporters Maggie Hyde and Mariam Rizk contributed to this report from Cairo.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians were voting Tuesday on a draft constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the nation’s Islamist president was overthrown in a popularly backed coup last July.

The two-day balloting also deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people.

Shortly before polls opened, an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the front of the building and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in Cairo, including in Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

But in the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards exhort Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters – and campaigns – urging a `no’ vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt.

While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

Associated Press reporters Sarah El Deeb in Assiut, Egypt, and Maggie Hyde in Cairo contributed to this report.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians were voting Tuesday on a draft constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after the nation’s Islamist president was overthrown in a popularly backed coup last July.

The two-day balloting also deals a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people.

Shortly before polls opened, an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the front of the building and shattered windows in nearby buildings but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in Cairo, including in Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

“The dogs, the traitors!” shouted a man on a motorcycle as he passed by the courthouse after the blast. A line of voters in a nearby polling station chanted in unison: “Long live Egypt!”

A crowd of several hundred angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

Another voter, Ismail Mustafa, said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“This is it, we have had it. I will vote `yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa said.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

“You must come out and vote to prove to those behind the dark terrorism that you are not afraid,” Interim President Adly Mansour told reporters after he voted early in the day.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

There were small demonstrations by Morsi supporters in parts of the country, but they only attracted dozens.

Most of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have backed the removal of Morsi and the charter in hopes of winning religious freedoms.

“Anyone who was raised in Egypt will choose this constitution,” said Verta Nassif, a 70-year old Christian from Assuit, a stronghold of Islamists and home to a large Christian community south of Cairo.

“We want Egypt to flourish and Muslims and Christians to live together in peace,” said another Assiut voter, Nadia Saleeb, 70.

But in the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards exhort Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters – and campaigns – urging a `no’ vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt.

While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.

“The constitution is not perfect,” said Ameena Abdel-Salam after she cast her ballot in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. “But we need to move forward and we can fix it later.”

Associated Press reporters Sarah El Deeb in Assiut, Egypt, and Maggie Hyde in Cairo contributed to this report.

Egypt holds key vote on country’s new charter

KDWN

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians were voting Tuesday on a draft for their country’s new constitution that represents a key milestone in a military-backed roadmap put in place after President Mohammed Morsi was overthrown in a popularly backed coup last July.

The two-day balloting is a heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign for the reinstatement of Morsi and paves the way for a likely presidential run by the nation’s top general, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

A massive security operation was underway to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi, with 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen deployed across the nation of some 90 million people.

Shortly before polls opened, an explosive device went off outside a Cairo courthouse in the densely populated neighborhood of Imbaba. The blast damaged the front of the building but caused no casualties.

Long lines of voters began to form nearly two hours before polling stations opened in Cairo, including in Imbaba, where the blast promptly whipped up anti-Brotherhood sentiment with chants and shouting against the Islamist group.

A small crowd of angry residents gathered outside the courthouse, some carrying posters of el-Sissi. “Everyone must go now and vote to show those dogs, the Brothers,” shouted one man.

Outside a nearby polling station, 67-year-old Alaa al-Nabi Mohammed echoed a similar sentiment – that Egyptians have consigned Morsi and the Brotherhood’s year-long rule to the past.

“I am here to send a message to the world and to those who hate Egypt that we want to live and get our country back on its feet,” he said.

The Tuesday and Wednesday balloting is the first electoral test for the popularly backed coup that ousted Morsi and his Brotherhood.

A comfortable “yes” vote and a respectable turnout would bestow legitimacy on the cascade of events that followed the coup while undermining the Islamists’ argument that Morsi remains the nation’s elected president.

Morsi’s Brotherhood, which is now branded as a terrorist group, has called for a boycott of the vote. Morsi himself is facing three separate trials on charges that carry the death penalty.

The unprecedented security surrounding the vote follows months of violence that authorities have blamed on Islamic militants. In the six months since Morsi’s ouster, there has been an assassination attempt on the interior minister as well as deadly attacks on key security officers, soldiers, policemen and provincial security and military intelligence headquarters.

Morsi’s supporters have said they would stage massive demonstrations and have labeled the draft charter a “constitution of blood.” In response, the government has warned it would deal harshly with anyone interfering with the referendum.

In the days running up to the vote, Egypt looked more like a country going to war rather than one preparing for a transition to democratic rule. The government and the overwhelmingly pro-military media have portrayed the balloting as the key to the nation’s security and stability over which there can be no dissent.

Hundreds of thousands of fliers, posters, banners and billboards exhort Egyptians to vote “yes.” Posters – and campaigns – urging a `no’ vote have led to arrests.

The referendum is the sixth nationwide vote since the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising in 2011, with the five others possibly the freest ever seen in Egypt.

While unlikely to be stained by fraud, the vote is taking place at a time when many of the freedoms won in the uprising that toppled Mubarak have vanished in the months since Morsi was removed after just one year in office.

The new charter, drafted by a liberal-dominated committee appointed by the military-backed government, would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians. But it also gives the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister for the next eight years and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals.

The charter is in fact a heavily amended version of a constitution written by Morsi’s Islamist allies and ratified in December 2012 with some 64 percent of the vote but with a nationwide turnout of just over 30 percent.