Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 09:46 PM
CAIRO — President Mohammed Morsi secured an apparent victory at the polls Saturday for a new Egyptian constitution, locking the country into a bitter contest between his ascendant Islamic camp and his secular opponents.
Morsi managed to push the controversial document through after a political crisis brought on by his declaration a month ago giving himself wide-ranging emergency powers.
Although Morsi rolled back much of that decree — amid massive protests and street clashes — he insisted on bringing the new constitution to a referendum. The president called the move necessary for stability, and he warned that there was a plot to sabotage Egypt's new democracy by loyalists to former President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian regime, overthrown nearly two years ago.
Morsi's steam-rolling of his secular opponents and reliance on his former party, the Muslim Brotherhood, with its vast grassroots network to get out the vote has only galvanized non-Islamists.
Opponents, including Nobel Prize-winner Mohammed ElBaradei and former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa, have made common cause against Morsi under a coalition umbrella named the National Salvation Front.
The secular leaders and their parties, which had largely been in disarray since the fall of Mubarak, say recent protests have breathed new life into the oft-divided opposition.
They are convinced that Morsi has been weakened in the confrontations and are now predicting a strong showing in elections for parliament, scheduled for two months after passage of the constitution.
Morsi's vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, resigned Saturday in a move that had been expected because Egypt's new constitution does not call for a vice president.
In his statement, Mekki, a former judge, said he had planned to leave office last month, but events forced him to stay on. His words had a caustic edge toward the government: "I have realized a while ago that the nature of politics does not suit my professional nature as a judge," he said.
The constitution has sowed fear among secular Egyptians that its language will allow Islamists to slowly transform the country into a theocratic state that oppresses women and minorities and denies basic freedoms. Critics, who boycotted the constitution-writing process, complain that the Islamists foisted the document on the public rather than addressing popular concerns.
"What happened is that this constitution was born without the inclusion of all of the Egyptian people who should have written it. Those who wrote it are Salafist, Islamist and Brotherhood figures," said Nabil Abdelfattah, a legal expert at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "This is why people are rejecting it. This constitution will not last for a long time because it only represents the needs of Islamist factions."
Recent weeks have proved costly for all. Clashes between Morsi's supporters and detractors have claimed the lives of at least 10 people and raised the possibility that Egypt's political disputes will remain violent for some time to come.
The first round of the referendum vote last week covered 10 of Egypt's 27 governorates, including urban hubs such as Cairo. Only 32 percent of voters showed up, and just 56 percent of those approved the document, according to the preliminary results.
Opposition figures, including ElBaradei, took the results as proof that the Islamists' popularity was fading. On Saturday night, however, the Muslim Brotherhood was claiming on its Twitter account that 71 percent of people voted "yes" in the second round of voting, which covered rural areas that have been traditional Islamist strongholds. There was no way to confirm the numbers.
The Brotherhood, of which Islamist President Mohammed Morsi hails, has accurately predicted election results in the past by tallying results provided by its representatives at polling centers. Official results would not be announced for several days.
Brotherhood members argue that the constitution will provide space for their left-wing and liberal opponents to have a voice.
"This will actually allow the opposition to organize and run in elections and become an actual opposition force that can have political power and representation in parliament," Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Abdel Quddous said.
Some voters on Saturday said they saw voting "yes" as simply as matter of asking for a return of law and order after a protracted period of uncertainty.
"We were put in a situation where we have no choice. We need a constitution in place in order to have safety and stability," said voter Osama Ahmed Mohamed, a 27-year-old Web designer from Port Said.
Members of the opposition on Saturday were already citing alleged violations at the polls, claiming that monitors were blocked from entering voting stations. Similar complaints were made the previous week, with witnesses saying voters were turned away at stations or the vote was delayed in areas where the constitution was not expected to do well. The controversy caused a rift among judges who were supposed to oversee the vote, with many refusing to take part.
On Friday, tensions boiled over in the port city of Alexandria, where a rally by Islamists for the constitution devolved into violent clashes with opposition supporters that left at least 63 people wounded.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki has resigned.
KHALIL HAMRA / AP
An Egyptian man shows his inked finger after casting his vote Saturday in the second round of a referendum on a disputed constitution drafted by Islamist supporters of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi.