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Referendum on constitution reveals a deeply divided Egypt (+video)

The party tied to President Mohamed Morsi says that nearly 57 percent of voters supported the new constitution, while about 43 percent voted against it. A second vote comes later this week.

By Correspondent / December 16, 2012

Riot police stand guard in front of the presidential palace in Cairo December 16. Egyptians voted narrowly in favour of a constitution shaped by Islamists but opposed by other groups who fear it will divide the Arab world's biggest nation, officials in rival camps said on Sunday after the first round of a two-stage referendum.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

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Cairo

The Muslim Brotherhood's political party claimed a narrow margin of Egyptians voted to accept a new draft constitution, according to unofficial results tallied after the first round of voting, even as opposition groups and rights organizations said the vote was marred by serious violations. 

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The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party says nearly 57 percent of voters supported the new constitution, which was pushed by President Mohamed Morsi, while about 43 percent voted against it. The numbers were based on tallies made by judges at each voting station after the polls closed. The main opposition coalition said it would not recognize the results until an investigation was conducted into the alleged violations.

The results, and the dispute over them, reflect the deep divide in Egypt over the foundational document that many had hoped would be a product of consensus, not a reason for division. The vote came after weeks of protests against President Morsi, a former Brotherhood and FJP leader, and his decision to sideline the judiciary and bring the constitution to a quick vote after it was abruptly finished. 

He had promised after his election not to bring the document to a vote without consensus. But nearly all non-Islamist members of the committee that drafted the constitution walked out in protest, and the opposition calls the document deeply flawed. 

Voter turnout, also according to unofficial reports, was extremely low, at about 32 percent, meaning that those who approved the constitution so far represent a small fragment of Egyptian society. Analysts say that's not a recipe for stability. Some countries that have held constitution referendums have required a minimum voter turnout in order to approve the constitution, to ensure that it has the consensus necessary to bring stability.

Citizens in ten of Egypt's 27 governorates voted yesterday, including the country's two largest cities – Cairo and Alexandria. Residents of the remaining 17 governorates will vote on Dec. 22, and official results will not be announced until both rounds of the referendum have been completed. 

"Regardless of what happens, this isn't going to be a moment that provides a firm foundation for moving forward," says Michael Hanna, a fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation who is currently in Cairo. "Whatever was polarizing and contested about [the constitution] is going to be polarizing and contested moving forward." 

Calls for a redo

A group of rights groups called today for a redo of the vote, citing serious violations.

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