Violence flares in Cairo as Egyptians vote

CAIRO Sat Dec 15, 2012 5:19pm EST

1 of 16. An elderly woman (C) sits as she queues outside a polling center to vote during a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo December 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Khaled Abdullah

Related Topics

CAIRO (Reuters) - Islamists attacked the offices of an Egyptian opposition party newspaper on Saturday, security sources said, as people voted on a new constitution intended to pull the country out of a growing political crisis.

The newspaper of the Wafd party in Cairo was targeted with petrol bombs and birdshot, the sources said, in the latest of a series of violent incidents surrounding a divisive referendum designed to pave the way to national elections next year.

The attack came as officials began counting votes after polling stations closed at 11 p.m. (1600 ET).

Official results will not come until after a second round of voting in remaining areas of the country next Saturday, but conflicting claims were already emerging from the rival camps.

A spokesman for the opposition National Salvation Front said it had indications that 60-65 percent of voters in Cairo and other cities had rejected the new constitution, while President Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood allies said that after 1 million votes had been counted, 72.5 percent were in favor.

Mostafa Shafik, managing editor at Wafd's newspaper, which is located next to the party headquarters, said his offices had been damaged.

"The attackers used Molotov cocktails to enter, which left minor areas burned," he said.

A Reuters photographer saw a dozen or so cars damaged inside the Wafd headquarters' grounds, their windows broken. Glass was also broken in the headquarters, but he saw no immediate signs of fire damage. Two people appeared to have been injured.

Wafd blamed followers of Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafist preacher, for the attack, but he used his Facebook page to deny involvement.

Violence in Cairo and other cities has marred the run-up to the referendum. Several party buildings belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party have been burned in protests.

Rival factions armed with clubs, knives and swords fought in the streets of Alexandria on Friday. Opposition supporters trapped a Muslim preacher inside his mosque after he backed a "yes" vote in favor of the constitution.

ANGRY DEMONSTRATIONS

President Mursi provoked angry demonstrations when he issued a decree last month expanding his powers and then fast-tracked the draft constitution through an assembly dominated by his Muslim Brotherhood group and its allies. At least eight people were killed in clashes last week outside the presidential palace.

His liberal, secular and Christian opponents say the constitution is too Islamist and tramples on minority rights. Mursi's supporters say the charter is needed if progress is to be made towards democracy nearly two years after the fall of military-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.

"The sheikhs (preachers) told us to say 'yes' and I have read the constitution and I liked it," said 53-year-old Adel Imam as he queued to vote in Cairo on Saturday. "The country will move on."

Turnout was high enough for voting to be extended by four hours in Cairo and some other cities.

In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters who cast ballots. A little more than half of Egypt's electorate of 51 million are eligible to vote in the first round in Cairo and other cities.

Rights groups reported some abuses, such as polling stations opening late, officials telling people to vote "yes", bribery and intimidation.

But Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, which is monitoring the vote, said nothing reported so far was serious enough to invalidate the referendum.

TRANSITION

Christians, making up about 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people and who have long complained of discrimination, were among those waiting at a polling station in Alexandria to oppose the basic law. They fear Islamists, long repressed by Mubarak, will restrict social and other freedoms.

"I voted 'no' to the constitution out of patriotic duty," said Michael Nour, a 45-year-old Christian teacher in Alexandria. "The constitution does not represent all Egyptians."

Howaida Abdel Azeem, a post office employee, said: "I said 'yes' because I want the destruction the country is living through to be over and the crisis to pass."

Islamists are counting on their disciplined ranks of supporters and the many Egyptians who may fall into line in the hope of ending turmoil that has hammered the economy and sent Egypt's pound to eight-year lows against the dollar.

Mursi was among the early voters after polls opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT). He was shown on television casting his ballot shielded by a screen and then dipping his finger in ink - a measure to prevent people voting twice.

The second round will be held in other regions on December 22 because there are not enough judges willing to monitor all polling stations after some said they would boycott the vote.

Egyptians are being asked to accept or reject a constitution that must be in place before a parliamentary election can be held next year to replace an Islamist-led parliament dissolved in June. Many hope this will lead Egypt towards stability.

If the constitution is voted down, a new assembly will have to be formed to draft a revised version, a process that could take up to nine months.

The army has deployed about 120,000 troops and 6,000 tanks and armoured vehicles to protect polling stations and other government buildings. While the military backed Mubarak and his predecessors, it has not intervened in the present crisis.

(Writing by Edmund Blair and Giles Elgood; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (11)
HSkipRob wrote:
Don’t you just love it when government and religion join forces. It is the ultimate recipe for corruption and the resultant tyranny.

Dec 15, 2012 8:22am EST  --  Report as abuse
moweddell wrote:
“Those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it”. This applies to the currrent “Arab Spring”, especially the results in Egypt. According to the UN (Survey 2002) between 40% to 70% of the Islamic nations citizens are illeterate, including about a 40% unemployment, with the majority living in poverty. These nations have been ruled by dictators, kings, or religious clerics for centuries. They do not have a clear understanding of the demands, duties, responsibilities, or procedures of a citizen within a “democracy”. They complain of their circumstances, rebel, cause civil war and rebellion, but when the dust is settled, they revert back to their religion and again select another religious sheikh, cleric, dictator, or group of misguided clerics to rule, thus yielding yet another dictatorship, just like Iran, and the cycle continues. Now the citizens, still somewhat displeased, continue to enforce the code of the feud and in the name of Jihad, begin killing Jews, Christian, liberal opposition, educated women, even children, and their neighbors who did not support their cause, and all the while they blame others for their murderous and terrorist purposes. The only real solution to the Islamists problems is to change their religion, enforce strict certification and control of the preaching of hate by the sheikhs. Thus, since they have produced a perpetual cycle of repeating history, it may last for many more generations. Changing religion will never happen, therefore, since these populations are their own worst enemy, we simply leave them to themselves until they decide between bullets and bread, or until they learn how to live among themselves or civilized nations. Note, in the meantime, we must keep our powder dry, should they decide to export their feuds in the form of terrorism.

Dec 15, 2012 10:32am EST  --  Report as abuse
sidevalve56 wrote:
i can’t believe this is happening…the muslim brotherhood is a peaceful and spiritual group…I don’t think they would do anything to undermine the freedoms of the egyptian people…lol…sorry just wanted to see how ridiculous that statement was when i saw it in a sentence…the egyptians put these guys into power so they get to deal with them…the muslim brotherhood’s history and intentions would have been widely known to most people in egypt…they should have thought twice before over-throwing their existing government and putting these guys in power…if you’re gonna be dumb you gotta be tough…

Dec 15, 2012 10:50am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.