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Egypt votes: constitutional referendum kicks off amid controversy (LIVE BLOG)

Egypt votes on divisive nation-building document.

GLOBALPOST LIVE BLOG: EGYPT CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM

UPDATE: 12/15/12 5:20 PM ET

Opposition newspaper attacked in Cairo 

The Wafd opposition party's newspaper offices were set on fire in the capital today, according to security officials cited by Reuters

Attackers threw petrol bombs and birdshot at the building, wounding two people, a witness told Reuters

Witness and reporter Omar Said told Ahram Online that attackers beat up journalists and opposition party members. 

Managing editor Mostafa Shafik told Reuters "cars are damaged, while the headquarters of the newspaper are destroyed," accusing the police of idlying nearby while the attack took place in Cairo's Dokki neighborhood. 

Shafik told Ahram Online the attackers numbered in the hundreds and said they were supporters of leading Salafist preacher and ex-presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail. He said they surrounded the building and then threw fireworks at it. 

"I hold President Mohamed Mori responsible for what the [Wafd] party has suffered," he said. 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 4:33 PM ET

Constitution ABCs

Note: the photo appears to have been taken December 12 as opposed to today.

UPDATE: 12/15/12 3:51 PM ET

Alexandria women block road, demanding right to vote

Over 1,500 Egyptian women obstructed a main road in the coastal city of Alexandria today after a judge allegedly refused to allow them to vote, according to the Associated Press.

A local hospital manager, Amira Abdel-Azem, told AP the judge wouldn't allow them to cast ballots if they weren't wearing a full niqab, an extremely conservative Islamic veil that only shows the eyes.

Here's a tweet on the affair, reading: The power of women: Judge in Sanaa school in Rushdy district in Alexandria refuses to let female voters enter -- they cut off road in response. 

The women gathered on the road to shout anti-government slogans like, "down with the Muslim Brotherhood rule," said AP

UPDATE: 12/15/12 2:58 PM ET

WATCH: Voters sound in on referendum

UPDATE: 12/15/12 2:14 PM ET

Fraud concerns rankle voters

Voters are worried about irregularities in today's ballot given the lack of monitoring by top election watchdog The Carter Center, which said it could not send out observors because regulations were issued at such late notice. 

Adding to concerns is the shortage of judges able to oversee the vote. Egypt had to split the election in half, holding one vote today and one vote a week from today, in order to sidestep the staffing problem. "The lack of judicial supervision undoubtedly will undermine the legitimacy of the vote," observed GlobalPost's Cairo correspondent Erin Cunningham.

"What's clear is that the nation is deeply divided," she said. "And whichever way the vote goes, there will need to be some serious reconciliation efforts on the part of both sides if Egypt is going to see any type of stability in the near future." 

Below, a woman complains to electoral staff as she and others wait to cast their vote at a polling station on December 15, 2012 in Cairo: 

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 12/15/12 1:31 PM ET

Muslim Brotherhood says nuns are trying to coopt vote

Oh, no! Not the nun card! Yes: Egypt's independent daily El Sherouk is reporting Muslim Brotherhood concerns that nuns are being marshaled in to vote against the proposed referendum today. 

GlobalPost's Heba Habib, reporting from Cairo, says this is one of the "stranger" election day stories she'd seen. It may be odd, but apparently it's not a first. The Muslim Brotherhood allegedly leveled similar charges at Christians during the presidential elections this summer, accusing them of bussing in nuns in a bid to influence the vote.

The minority Christian community's nun population is, however, unlikely to shift electoral outcomes in Egypt. 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 12:30 PM ET

Women flood the polls

Women seem to be outstripping men at the voting booths, says GlobalPost's Heba Habib, but even they are divided on the referendum -- despite allegations that it fails to deliver on women's rights

At at a polling station at the Nokrashi boys school in a lowerclass Cairo neighborhood, one woman cast her vote for the referendum in marked contrast with nearby anti-government graffiti reading "The [Muslim] Brotherhood are liars." 

“I read the constitution, and I liked it,” the woman told Habib. It was a rare claim -- and probably a rare feat, given the document's 236 articles, some 60 pages in length, according to Daily News Egypt

All the other women questioned by Habib said they hadn't read it. One 72-year-old Coptic Christian housewife put it this way: “Even if I had read it, with my background I wouldn’t understand it – but I can’t say yes to a constitution which caused the death and injury of young people, especially good people, like the young journalist Husseini Abu Deif.”

Deif was killed by injuries sustained during clashes last week, and hundreds of people attended his funeral on Wednesday. 

Below, women queuing at a polling station in central Cairo today: 

(MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: 12/15/12 12:15 PM ET

Egypt voter says stability argument no longer sells at the polls

In the lowerclass area of Cairo's Hadaek el Qobba, a middle-aged taxi driver says he's not going to be "duped" into voting yes out of fears that a "no" vote might destabilize the nation, telling GlobalPost's Heba Habib that he's heard that argument before -- and he's not buying it. 

"We know, regardless of the result, that there will be clashes again," and since "the country has already been destroyed, let’s take it to the very end, and start rebuilding it together," Ahmed el Kashef told Habib. 

El Kashef said he's worried about the split vote -- half the electorate votes today and the other half votes next Saturday -- saying it invites trouble. “This creates a space of time for the [Muslim] Brotherhood to start gathering their forces, and for the opposition to gather their forces,” he warned, adding grimly “we are living out the darkest time in Egypt’s history.” 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 12:00 PM ET

Polling stations extend hours due to big turnout

Voting booths are staying open an additional two hours to 9 pm tonight in order to keep up with high voter turnout, reports Egypt's Ahram Online. Local television says some may extend their hours until 11 pm. 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 11:19 AM ET

The referendum in numbers

Number of options on the ballot: Two -- "agree" or "don't agree," according to The Associated Press.

Number of voting rounds: Two. Today is not the definitive vote, with only 10 governates participating. Another round will be held next Saturday.

Number of judges monitoring the vote: 7,000.  

Number of ballot stations: 6,000. 

Number of people eligible to vote today: 25 million. (Next week: 26 million.)

Source: AP

UPDATE: 12/15/12 10:30 AM ET

Ex-presidential candidate Shater dissed at voting booth

Muslim Brotherhood deputy president Khairat el-Shater, a failed presidential candidate, "received a nasty surprise today when he went to vote at his polling station," said GlobalPost's Heba Habib. 

El-Shater was greeted by hostile chants when he showed up at the ballot station in Cairo's Nasr City, said Habib, describing shouts like “down with the rule of the supreme guide,” referring to a top Muslim Brotherhood position, and “down with the Brotherhood.”

Many among the opposition believe El-Shater is really controlling the government and President Morsi is more of a puppet, said Habib. It was El-Shater who responded to protests at the US embassy in Cairo in September, writing a letter to The New York Times in which he explained that "Egypt going through a state of revolutionary fluidity." 

Here's a video of the incident in Nasr City today: 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 10:07 AM ET

Four reported hurt during voting

Egypt's Ministry of Health has so far reported four people injured since voting began in Egypt today. Security forces are on high alert following a week of referendum-related protest activity. 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 10:00 AM ET

Egypt army praises vote to BBC

UPDATE: 12/15/12 9:14 AM ET

Fake judge reported at shorthanded polling station

Because there weren't enough judges to go around, BBC News said Egypt split the referendum vote between today and a week from today. But apparently that has not solved the staffing problem at ballot booths, with the opposition group April 6 reporting a fake judge in Cairo’s Sayeda district, reported Ahram Online.

The judge's qualifications were reportedly questioned by one of the voters lined up at the neighborhood's Shubra Masr School. Upon further examination, it was revealed he was really only a school employee, the group said. Elsewhere, another judge allegedly allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to manage a voting booth. (This is not an objective body: the Muslim Brotherhood backs Egypt's President Mohammad Morsi and has a strong opinions on the Islamist-backed constitution.)

Meanwhile, at a polling station the upscale Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, people looked askance at the presiding judge, according to GlobalPost's Heba Habib. 

“There’s a big sign inside saying that this station is presided over by a judge, but who knows, there definitely aren't enough for all the stations," observed 35-year-old voter Ahmed Khaled.  

UPDATE: 12/15/12 8:45 AM ET

UN group slams referendum on rights, warns of political 'regression'

A United Nations working group has expressed concern over Egypt's proposed constitution, according to Daily News Egypt, warning that it does not go far enough in securing basic rights. 

“Key opportunities have so far been missed," group head Kamala Chandrakirana said in a statement released Friday, noting that "almost no women" participated in the document's drafting. 

“Political transitions offer a unique opportunity to address inequalities of the past, advance women’s human rights and ensure that equality between women and men is one of the foundations on which the new legal system is built,” Chandrakirana said, adding, “despite offering unprecedented opportunities for progress, political transitions can result in regression and bring new forms of discrimination.”

The working group falls under the purview of the UN Human Rights Council. 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 8:30 AM ET

Egypt referendum in pictures

See the vote unfold over at this GlobalPost slideshow

UPDATE: 12/15/12 7:45 AM ET

Voters bring their own pens to polling stations

Many voters are arriving at polling stations with their own pens due to rumors that those provided by the government contain a form of ink that can be erased easily, GlobalPost's Heba Habib reports. Accusations of electoral fraud are already circulating, she says, with many claiming that either ballot cards do not carry the correct watermark or claiming their names are not showing up on the records, thereby preventing them from voting.

“I’m voting no,” 20-year-old Raghda Hussein, a Muslim wearing her headscarf, told Habib today, adding, “but I don’t think the result will be fair, it’s going to be rigged.”  

UPDATE: 12/15/12 7:15 AM ET

Newly-elected Coptic pope casts his vote

Egypt's new Coptic Pope Tawadros II cast his vote in Cairo’s Waily district at the Al-Qoba Al-Fadaweya School polling station: 

Tawadros was elected the new leader of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church just last month. The Coptic Orthodox Church earlier withdrew from Egypt's fractious constitution writing committee on the grounds that the document did not reflect Egypt's pluralistic identity or address the needs and rights of all, said Habib. It's a criticism shared by many in Egypt's more liberal groups and opposition parties. Habib suggests it's safe to assume he voted no on the constitution -- but of course, we'll never know. 

UPDATE: 12/15/12 6:51 AM ET

Voters line up early for key constitutional vote

Egypt is voting on a new constitution today, a critical document establishing new civic framework in post-Mubarak Egypt, with voters showing up early to cast votes in a bid to reshape the nation. 

About half the electorate living in 10 governates will be heading to the polls today, with the other half set to vote next Saturday, according to BBC. The constitutional referendum has sparked nationwide turmoil as demonstrators and police clashed at various political rallies earlier this week. 

The draft being presented has been hotly contested by the opposition, with many saying the proposed document does not provide equal rights for all.

"Frankly, I am worried," voter Salwa Hamed, a doctor in her 40s, told GlobalPost's Heba Habib today. "There aren't enough Judges presiding over the elections, and the government seems desperate to get this constitution ratified -- I don't know if my vote will count at all."

Hamed was standing in line early today at Cairo's Tawfeek el Hakim school, one of many waiting in two long lines waiting to cast their ballots. 

"I'll be voting no, but it seems like the yes voters are going to win," Hamed said. 

The mood was very tense, in marked contrast to the more jubilant mood of Egypt's last elections -- the presidential elections which saw the election of President Mohamed Morsi this past summer, said Habib. 

Some were more confident. "This constitution will bring stability and the law to Egypt," Ahmed Rabie, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter and accountant in his 50s, told Habib, adding, "Morsi was voted in democratically and is a president for all the people." 

People may be expressing their differences quietly here, but Egypt saw violence in the lead-up to the vote. In Alexandria, several people were reported wounded Friday when dueling pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrations turned violent. 

There are fears the unrest will spillover into today. The government stationed over 100,000 armed troops near polling stations in a bid to tamp down unrest, according to Habib. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/egypt/121214/egypt-votes-constitutional-referendum-controversy