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Updated Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 12:31 AM

Egyptian vote tilting toward Islamist-infused constitution

By Nancy A. Youssef and Amina Ismail
McClatchy Newspapers

CAIRO — Egyptians endorsed a controversial, Islamist-backed constitution after the first day of voting, but without the support of the capital, according to initial results, raising new doubts that the 236-page document could bring stability to an increasingly polarized Egypt.

According to newspaper tallies of the votes, 56 percent of Egyptians in the 10 governorates that voted Saturday endorsed the constitution. But in Cairo, 57 percent rejected it. The vote continues Saturday, when the remaining 17 governorates are to vote.

The election appeared to be as much a referendum on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the party through which Morsi ascended to the presidency, as the constitution itself.

Morsi and the Brotherhood heralded the new document as a pathway to stability. But opposition groups — Christians, secularists, liberals and moderates — called it divisive and unrepresentative.

The constitution would empower Islamists to carry out the most widespread and strictest implementation of Islamic law that modern Egypt has seen. According to both supporters and opponents, Muslim clerics would become the arbiters for many civil rights and could give a constitutional basis for citizens to set up Saudi-style "religious police" to monitor morals and enforce segregation of the sexes, imposition of Islamic dress codes and even harsh punishments for adultery and theft.

Where voters were once festive and exuberant to take part in elections, on Saturday the crowds were weary, even those embracing the constitution. This is Egypt's third election this year, and with each vote the country has only become more divided.

Since the constitutional assembly hastily passed the document earlier this month, nine Egyptians have died in protests, the deadliest political crisis since Morsi's June election.

There were accusations throughout the day of vote rigging, judges swaying voters, supporters outside telling voters what to choose, and voters already listed as having cast ballots when they had not.

There were fewer election monitors Saturday, as international groups did not have enough time to send representatives, and opposition groups hurriedly looked for volunteers, creating a cloud of doubt over the process.

The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, said it had received complaints of "tens of violations."

Voters stood in long lines as many judges boycotted the process, leading to fewer polling stations. Some accused their opponents of impropriety. Others expressed little hope that the proposed constitution would be an enduring document.

Supporters called it flawed, but the starting point for a stable government. Many said they embraced it because it included provisions that allowed parliament to make changes. Others said they hadn't read the document, and some said they thought they were voting for president again.

Material from The New York Times and The Associated Press is included in this report.


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