In Egypt’s constitutional referendum, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes often mirror each other

After a week of tumultuous polarization, Egyptians headed to the ballot boxes in what would be their eighth election since the 25 January revolution.

Like a chorus to a turbulent transition, the voting process became a recurrent scene to Egyptians in the last two years: long queues, enthusiastic citizens and scattered violations.

The vote this time is on a 63-page document that would be Egypt’s post-revolution constitution, and which has been the subject of a growing rift between Islamist forces and their opponents, who slam the draft for not representing all Egyptians.

Not all of those who voted today and who were interviewed by Egypt Independent read the full draft, but their voting choices came as an expression of approval or rejection to the ruling regime of President Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails. The voting has also become a reflection of the quest to see stability reign once the constitution is approved, as its rejection is seen by some as the starting point of yet another stalemate in Egypt’s wagered transition.

“Yes to stability and rights for everyone. All we care about is stability and security so that we can live,” says Othman Mohamed, a fisherman from the Assara village of the upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut.

Similarly, in Mansoura, Daqahliya Governorate, Ahmad Ibrahim opted for a "yes" vote because he thinks this is the best choice given the fact that consensus is impossible to reach, while stability is more of a priority. "Even if it's not the best constitution, it will restore some of the stability we lost during the last few months and the controversial articles can be adjusted in a few years."

For some, a "yes" vote is a response to Morsy’s opposition, which is perceived as unendingly dissatisfied.

Sarah Sabry, a fully veiled woman, and her sister, Gehad, both voted for Morsy in the first and second round of presidential elections. Both women, who hail from the upper middle class district of Maadi, questioned why those opposing the constitution see the recognition of the three heavenly religions as limiting religious freedoms.

“This is a majority Muslim country, with a Coptic minority, and very few Jewish citizens. What other religions do we need to recognize? [Opposition leader Mohamed] ElBaradei wants people to be able to build Buddhist temples. We don’t even have any Buddhists in Egypt,” says Gehad.

And for some of those who read the constitution draft, there is enough reason to say "yes." Radwa Rabah, a 30-year-old graphic designer, standing in line in a polling station in Maadi, planned on saying "yes" to the constitution because after reading it thoroughly, she sees no major flaws, with the exception of articles pertaining to Sharia and the army.  She tells Egypt Independent that ideally, there would be oversight of the army’s budget, and adds the articles regarding Sharia are too vague.

While Rabah is not sure how or if the issues she sees as faulty will ever be fixed, she chose to vote "yes" anyway because “Egypt is going through a turbulent time and not just anyone can try to impose their opinions on the entire population,” referring to those opposing the referendum.

Such sentiments do not just come out of upscale districts. Abdallah Abu Hashem, a cardiology professor at Zagazig University in the Delta city of Sharqiya, is also voting "yes."

"I read the constitution this morning and was impressed with many of the articles, such as those governing minimum and maximum wages as well as the article on health,” says Abu Hashem, who is also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He adds that only through a constitution can the state’s institutions operate freely and properly.

Just like the "yes" voters are a mix between those who approve of the constitution itself and those who approve of the Islamist drafters behind it, the "no" voters are a similar mix.

There are those who read the draft and found it problematic. In Maadi, Abdelrahman Makhlouf, a 52-year-old private business owner, is voting no. “I’m no expert, but I compared the draft constitution with that of 1971, and this one is a step backward,” he says.

Counselor Hany Sedqy, 52, from Manial, also says he was "not convinced" by the draft and especially its provisions on health and the economy, which he describes as important to him.

Also in Manial, Iman Hassan, 58, an Al-Azhar English teacher, voted "no" because she is unimpressed with the provisions on women's rights and its "lack of concern with tourism,” a vital revenue earner for the economy.

For others, the vote is a reflection of sheer opposition to the Brotherhood.

In the working class district of Dar al-Salam, optometrist Hatem Abdallah, 52, believes that the past two months have proved to him that "[Morsy] isn't interested in being a president to[all] Egyptians…why should I give him more power if so far he's only been using it against me?" he asks.

"Who's really in charge of Egypt? Is it Morsy? Is it the supreme guide of the Brotherhood, or [Khairat] al-Shater? Nobody tells us anything, we just get decrees and laws and referendums," says Ibrahim Helmy, 67, a voter in the middle class district of Nasr City.

And while stability is often cited as the reason for the "yes" vote, it is also cited by some as a reason for a "no" vote. Mahmoud Lotfy, 32, an electrical engineer voting no in Dar al-Salam, explains that the only problem he has with the constitution is that "too many people are against it. Even if it's a good constitution, if half the country is against it, then the president has to listen to them, or else we'll [never have stability]."

A mostly high turnout was reported from the 10 different governorates where this round of the vote is taking place, especially working class districts, but also several delays were reported due to the limited number of judges overseeing the process. Scattered instances were also reported of Muslim Brotherhood members directing voters for a "yes" vote, voters, particularly Christians, being prevented from casting their ballots, monitors being barred from entering polling stations and occasional closing of certain polling stations after altercations broke out between voters and security personnel.

While the voting is supposed to end at 7 pm, extensions are expected given the high turnout.

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