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Egypt's referendum a vote on Morsi as well as the constitution (+video)

As Egyptians vote today in a referendum on a controversial draft constitution, the debate is dominated by President Mohamed Morsi's actions, not the document. 

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Nearby, Mervat Ayoub, a middle-aged mother wearing a Dalmatian-print scarf to guard against the nippy weather, agreed. "Morsi hasn't done anything good. He's destroying the country," she said. The constitution was "for certain people, not all Egyptians," she said, gesturing to the cross tattoo on her hand. 

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Essam Badie, who owns a shop near the presidential palace, said he would vote no "a thousand times" if he could. "There are many things I don't like in the constitution, but it's enough [to vote no] for the people who died in Ittihadiya and Tahrir," he says, referencing protests in Cairo's iconic central square and near the presidential palace last week.

Clashes erupted last week after the Muslim Brotherhood sent members to the presidential palace to push out opposition protesters staging a demonstration there. Brotherhood supporters captured and beat dozens of people, holding nearly 50 of them for about 15 hours and trying to extract confessions that they were paid by opposition leaders to protest and attack the Brotherhood.  Eleven people died. The Brotherhood claims most of them were its members and supporters. 

Yearning for stability

The stakes are high for Morsi. He issued multiple decrees in the past few weeks as he came under more pressure, only to retract or modify them a short time later. He and his aides have repeatedly painted the opposition as former Mubarak supporters and members of the liberal elite who don't represent the majority of Egyptians. If the constitution passes with a wide margin, it will allow the president to assert that he has a popular mandate. But if the people reject it, he will be left increasingly isolated and weakened. 

Analysts say he's counting on weary Egyptians’ desire for stability, as well as the mobilization capabilities of the Muslim Brotherhood, to ensure that the constitution passes. Opposition parties mulled a boycott until just days before the vote, when they finally announced they would urge their supporters to participate but vote against the constitution. They have far less capacity to mobilize voters than the Brotherhood, and the delay cost them much-needed time to get out the message.

There were plenty of voters in Matareya who planned to vote for the constitution. Many cited stability as the biggest factor in their support. Mohamed Mohamed Ali said he voted yes "because this generation that's coming up deserves a good future," he said, gesturing to his son. "If we say no, it will set Egypt back a year. The country needs to progress." 

Others expressed frustration with those who opposed the constitution, and especially opposition political leaders. "They oppose the constitution just because they oppose Morsi," says Naila Hamdy, who described herself as a housewife. "I've read the constitution and it's very good."

Even if some are unhappy with certain points, the constitution can be amended in the future, so it needn't be perfect right now, she says.

Gharib Mohsen, an elderly retiree, insists the number of articles in the constitution that Egyptians disagree over are very few, saying they can be dealt with later because the president promised he would amend controversial articles once a parliament is elected.

"This constitution paves the way for the People's Assembly to be elected, and stability will come back and foreign investment will return," he said. "The production wheel will turn, and the economy will improve. Those opposing the constitution are doing it for their own interests." 

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