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Turnout High at Egyptian Polls
December 15, 2012

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Egyptians went to the polls by the millions to voice their opinion on a draft constitution.

Despite the threat of a boycott by opposition leaders, the turnout was large. Authorities extended the close-off by two hours to accommodate long lines caused not only a large turnout but also by delays at polling places.

Security was tight in many places. Nearly 120,000 army troops made their presence at polling places around the country.

As required by law, men and women stood in different lines to vote. In Alexandria, about 1,500 women blocked a main road in order to protest their being turned away from voting because they were not wearing veils. Conflicts like that could come to typify the new Egypt.

Already, relations between the majority Muslim Brotherhood and the main opposition parties, which have come together under the political umbrella the National Salvation front. The constitution was finished by an entirely Islamist membership, after Christians and other more liberal members walked out of the constitution-writing assembly, in part because of the alleged rigidity of language used in the document.

The draft includes two articles that spell out a long, drawn-out process for amending the constitution, much like what is required to amend the U.S. Constitution. The problem with that, opposition leaders say, is that the Egyptian draft constitution places much larger restrictions on freedom of expression and the rights of women.

In recent days, protests on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Heliopolis, and other cities have been large and spirited and, in some cases, violent, as protesters clashed with large crowds of supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, whose November 22 decree granting him expansive presidential powers sparked the largest protests since those targeted against former President Hosni Mubarak.

On Saturday, though, voting was the thing. Of the 51 million eligible voters, about half were expected to cast their ballots. That would be an improvement on the number who voted in the presidential election, out of which Morsi emerged as the preferred candidate of 52 percent of those who voted. Most will have voted on Saturday; the rest will vote next week. Egyptian citizens living in other countries cast their ballots last week.

If a majority of voters approve the constitution, then it becomes the law of the land. Morsi has promised to give up his new powers once the constitution is in place. If the voters reject the constitution, then Morsi would call for a new constitution to be written within three months.

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