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Tension Marks Egyptian Referendum

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January 14, 2014

Egyptians are voting in a nationwide referendum on a new draft constitution, written by a team of 50 academics and political scientists and approved by the interim government. Results of the two-day referendum are expected soon.

Soldiers by the thousands were deployed across the country to guard polling stations. Just before polling stations opened, a bomb exploded outside a Cairo court building. No one was injured, and damage was slight; but the explosion heightened the tension, in Cairo and in other cities large and small, throughout the country.

Interim President Adly Mansour urged all eligible Egyptian voters, about 50 million of the overall population of 85 million, to exercise their electoral rights. Mansour also pleaded for calm and order in the voting.

Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi were not expected to turn out in high numbers for the referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood had vowed to boycott the voting, a reverse of what occurred two years ago, when a majority of Islamist voters approved an Islamist-dominated constitution and then voted in not only Morsi but also an Islamist-dominated Parliament.

The interim government has, since the ouster of Morsi on July 3, 2013, embarked on a stark crackdown on the Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,000 people and the imprisonment of hundreds more as a result of repeated clashes between protesters and police. Morsi himself, along with dozens of co-defendants, is due to be tried on charges of abetting violence in the wake of protests against his government, in December 2013.

General Abdel Fattah al Sisi, the head of the army and interim vice-president, is widely expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency. Voting for that office and for Parliament are expected to take place in the next few months.

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