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Egypt Votes on A Constitution and the Nature of Egyptian Life

Egyptians are flocking to the polls today to cast their vote on the fate of the nation’s constitution, a decision that could have a far-reaching impact on the quality of life of the average Egyptian.

While President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood expect the constitution to prevail in a “Yes” vote, the Egyptian populace is extremely divided and angered over the split that Morsi has engineered in their country. As they see it, because of Morsi’s actions over the past few months, they don’t see much peace in their future, no matter which way the constitutional vote goes.

If the constitution passes, giving unprecedented authority to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that was banned in Egypt just two years ago, a new era of Islamic fundamentalism and adherence to the strict tenets of sharia law will sweep across the nation. That will bring a severe reaction from Morsi’s opponents, liberal and secular groups and the judicial and social elite who have no interest in living in a society where religious law is legal and binding and violators may face serious retribution as infidels.

But if the constitution fails, there will be retaliation from the Brotherhood and the extremely conservative Salafi movement, which will push Morsi to try any means necessary to take control of Egyptian institutions. It was this impulse that started much of the recent discord in the first place, as Morsi immediately followed up his triumphant negotiation of a ceasefire in Palestine between Israel and Hamas by issuing a decree on Nov. 22 that basically rendered the nation’s judiciary irrelevant, putting Morsi above the law and the judges in an effort to insulate the Islamist-influenced body writing the constitution from judicial interference—the judges were expected to force the disbanding of the constitutional assembly, as they had done before.

On the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, according to press reports, there was much anger at Morsi for bringing the nation to this point, where most Egyptians see unrest and more killing in their future, no matter which way the vote goes. Nearly a dozen people have died in the last several weeks of protests. While many Egyptians say they voted “yes” on the constitution in an attempt to bring stability—which is the reaction that Morsi has been banking on—many others say they felt the need to send a message to Morsi and the Brotherhood by saying, “No.” Women’s rights groups were especially vocal on this front.

English teacher Yomna Hesham, 22, told CBS said she was voting “No” because the draft is “vague” and ignores women’s rights.

“If we say ‘yes,’ we will cease to exist. Some people are saying to say ‘yes’ to Morsi,” she said. “But he did nothing right. Why should we? They say vote ‘yes’ for stability. We have said `yes’ before and there was no stability.”

“I don’t know why we have become so divided …now no one wants to look in the other’s face,” said Hesham, who also wears the hijab, after voting. “This will not end well either way. It is so sad that we have come to this.”

“At one point in our history, Cleopatra, a woman, ruled Egypt. Now you have a constitution that makes women not even second-class but third-class citizens,” businesswoman Olivia Ghita told CBS. “This constitution is tailored for one specific group (the Muslim Brotherhood). It’s a shame. I am very upset.”

Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, an important Egyptian leader as the voice of the country’s liberals, wrote Saturday on his Twitter account: “Listen to your conscience and the voice of reason and say ‘no.'”

But the constitution has its supporters. In fact, engineer Mohammed Gamal said he was voting “Yes” although he felt there wasn’t enough Islam in the constitution.

“Islam has to be a part of everything,” said Gamal, who wore the mustache-less beard that signified his alignment with the conservative Salafi Muslims. “All laws have to be in line with Sharia.”

The vote will continue next week, as the Egyptian populace of 51 million eligible voters was divided in half, with one group voting this week and the other group getting their chance a week later, as the country attempted to deal with the lack of judges, most of whom are boycotting the election and not acting in their usual role as overseers of the balloting. Many voters who had to stand in lines for more than two hours, which they say is very unusual, accused Morsi’s people of encouraging voting difficulties to discourage them from casting a ballot.

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