* Unofficial results say constitution will pass
* Constitution backed by 64 percent overall, say Islamists
* Opposition says it will unite and fight on
* Rights groups report what they say are irregularities
By Yasmine Saleh and Shaimaa Fayed
CAIRO, Dec 23 An Islamist-backed Egyptian
constitution won approval in a referendum, rival camps said on
Sunday, after a vote the opposition said would sow deep social
divisions in the Arab world's most populous nation.
The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled President
Mohamed Mursi to power in a June election, said an unofficial
tally showed 64 percent of voters backed the charter after two
rounds of voting that ended with a final ballot on Saturday.
An opposition official also told Reuters their unofficial
count showed the result was a "yes" vote, while party spokesmen
said there had been a series of abuses during the voting.
The main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front,
responded to the defeat by saying it was moving towards forming
a single political party to challenge the Islamists who have
dominated the ballot box since strongman Hosni Mubarak was
overthrown two years ago.
Members of the opposition, taking heart from a low turnout
of about 30 percent of voters, pledged to keep up pressure on
Mursi through peaceful protests and other democratic means.
"The referendum is not the end of the road," said Khaled
Dawoud, a spokesman for the National Salvation Front. "It is
only the beginning of a long struggle for Egypt's future."
The referendum committee may not declare official results
for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals. If the
outcome is confirmed, a parliamentary election will follow in
about two months.
Mursi's Islamist backers say the constitution is vital for
the transition to democracy, nearly two years after Mubarak was
ousted in a popular uprising. It will provide the stability
needed to help a fragile economy, they say.
The constitution was "a historic opportunity to unite all
national powers on the basis of mutual respect and honest
dialogue for the sake of stabilising the nation," the
Brotherhood said in a statement.
RECIPE FOR UNREST
The opposition accuses Mursi of pushing through a text that
favours Islamists and ignores the rights of Christians, who make
up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women. They
say it is a recipe for further unrest.
The opposition said voting in both rounds was marred by
abuses. However, an official said the overall vote favoured the
"The majority is not big and the minority is not small,"
liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said, adding that the National
Salvation Front would use "all peaceful, democratic means" such
as protests to challenge the constitution.
The vote was split over two days as many judges had refused
to supervise the ballot, making a single day of voting
During the build-up to the vote there were deadly protests,
sparked by Mursi's decision to award himself extra powers in a
Nov. 22 decree and then to fast-track the constitutional vote.
The new basic law sets a limit of two four-year presidential
terms. It says the principles of sharia, Islamic law, remain the
main source of legislation but adds an article to explain this.
It also says Islamic authorities will be consulted on sharia - a
source of concern to Christians and others.
Rights groups reported what they said were illegalities in
voting procedures. They said some polling stations opened late,
that Islamists illegally campaigned at some polling places, and
complained of irregularities in voter registration.
But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its
investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on Dec.
15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million voters. About
25 million were eligible to vote in the second round.
The Brotherhood said turnout was about a third of voters.
The opposition says the constitution will stir up more
trouble on the streets since it has not received sufficiently
broad backing for a document that should be agreed by consensus,
and raised questions about the fairness of the vote.
In the first round, the district covering most of Cairo
voted "no," which opponents said showed the depth of division.
"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal
Free Egyptians Party and a member of the opposition Front.
He cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting,
and said anger against Mursi was growing. "People are not going
to accept the way they are dealing with the situation."
At least eight people were killed in protests outside the
presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals
clashed in Alexandria, the second-biggest city, on the eves of
both voting days.