* Egyptians desperate for calm say approve constitution now
* Tourists scared away by protracted Egyptian turmoil
* Islamists, liberals at odds over new constitution
By Tamim Elyan
CAIRO, Dec 15 Tucked away in a Cairo bazaar that
in better times drew hordes of tourists, shopkeeper Ahmed Sayed
said voting "no" in a referendum on Egypt's future is a luxury
he cannot afford.
His shop full of model pyramids, statuettes of the Sphinx
and "hubbly bubbly" water pipes, Sayed is backing a constitution
with an Islamist flavour that opponents say will deepen
divisions in a country battered by two years of turmoil.
"We need stability," Sayed, 35, said, grumbling that he was
only seeing a quarter the number of customers compared with
before the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February
2011 and scared away foreign visitors.
"If we vote 'no', we will be back at square one. The
tourists will never come as long as there is no stability. We
shopowners are the ones harmed," he said in the Khan al-Khalily
market, next to mosques that date back hundreds of years.
President Mohamed Mursi, who touched off deadly protests
last month by awarding himself extra powers, and his Islamists
allies are banking on their disciplined supporters and Egyptians
exhausted by the upheaval to push through a constitution that if
approved will lead to a parliamentary election in early 2013.
Their liberal-minded opponents say the document is too
Islamist and tramples on minority rights. A win for the "no"
vote could mean another nine months before a new constitution is
in place and may mean a year's wait for a parliamentary poll.
Egyptians queued to vote on Saturday on the constitution,
with soldiers joining police to secure the referendum after
deadly protests during the run-up. Official results are due
after a second round of voting on Dec. 22.
In a rundown neighbourhood of Cairo, a woman with a big bag
of potatoes balanced on her head said: "Those who vote 'no' are
well-off. They are comfortable and living well but we here are
the ones suffering."
Critics insist that the new constitution, far from ending
the turbulence, will compound it by alienating many Egyptians,
including Christians who make up 10 percent of Egypt's 83
But for many across the Arab world's most populous nation, a
vote for the constitution is simply a way to move beyond the
latest crisis regardless of reservations.
"I voted 'yes' for stability," said Ahmed Abou Rabu, 39, a
shopkeeper in Alexandria, Egypt's second biggest city.
"I cannot say all the articles of the constitution are
perfect but I am voting for a way forward. I don't want
Egyptians to go in circles, forever lost in this transition."
In Rafah, on Egypt's border with Gaza, Moussa Abu Ayad
echoed that view: "Those who want chaos don't want the
constitution. We want to say 'yes' for stability."
The opposition coalition of leftists, Christians and
liberal-minded Muslims say failure to get it right now promises
more bloodshed. Eight people were killed in clashes between
rival factions last week outside the presidential palace.
But some Egyptians said shortcomings could be fixed later
and supporting the draft would at least start to restore order.
"The constitution won't lead to calm immediately but it will
help the country restore calm over time," said Ahmed Fouad,
65-year-old pensioner in the more affluent Cairo suburb of
Maadi. "The people are tired."
Others were less optimistic, regardless of the outcome,
resigned to more protests and more upheaval for an economy that
has long relied heavily on tourism.
"The country is divided," said Hady Adel, 23, a 'no' voter
working in another shop full of trinkets in Cairo's bazaar. "If
the result is 'yes' the opposition will protest and if the
result is 'no' Islamists won't stay quiet."