Egypt referendum: Tight security but clashes claim lives

The BBC's James Reynolds reports from outside a voting station surrounded by Yes voters

A first day of voting has been taking place in Egypt on a new constitution that could pave the way for fresh elections.

But clashes involving supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi led to several deaths.

The new charter is to replace the constitution passed under Mr Morsi before he was forced out by the army.

The military wants a strong Yes vote in the two-day referendum to endorse his removal.

Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, now designated a terrorist group, is boycotting the vote.

Shortly before polls opened, a bomb exploded at a Cairo courthouse

His supporters clashed with security forces in several parts of Egypt and officials said nine people had died:

  • Four people were killed and more wounded in clashes in the Upper Egypt city of Sohag, though details of the incident are disputed
  • One person died in Nahia, in the Giza district of Cairo
  • Another was killed during an anti-referendum protest in Bani Suef, south of Cairo, the governor there told the BBC
  • Three people - Morsi supporters according to security sources - are reported to have been shot dead in the Cairo suburb of Kerdasa

Shortly before voting began, there was an explosion near a court building in Cairo's Imbaba district, although no casualties were reported.

At the scene

James Reynolds, Cairo

Many of the hundreds queuing up at this polling station in Nasr City see the referendum as a personal vote in favour of Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Several military Chinook helicopters flew overhead. A military convoy drove outside the polling station - on the bonnet of one vehicle was a picture of Gen Sisi.

Sally Nabil, Alexandria

It was a calm morning. The security presence is quite heavy, but the forces remained at a distance, keeping an eye all around, whether from the roofs or both inside and outside the polling stations.

Abdel Bassir Hassan, Mansoura

There was a considerable turnout at polling stations during the first hours of the vote, although numbers are reducing as the day goes on.

Ahmed Kilany, Assiut

In the first hours of voting, numbers have been significant, although in the surrounding villages turnout is more limited.

A huge security operation is being mounted for the two days of voting. Some 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen are being deployed nationwide.

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, wearing dark sunglasses and khaki fatigues, visited one polling station in north Cairo, telling guards there: "Work hard. We need the referendum to be completely secured."

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo says this has been a distorted campaign, with endorsements for the new constitution flooding state-run and private TV and radio.

However, spotting any posters from the No campaign is a lot harder and people have been arrested for putting them up, our correspondent says.

Democratic or not, she says, the referendum is seen by many as more than a ballot on a new constitution - it is widely viewed as a verdict on the removal of Mr Morsi.

State-run media were on Tuesday describing the vote as a "democratic ceremony" - a term widely used during the Hosni Mubarak era but not heard since he was ousted in the revolution of January 2011.

One voter in Cairo, Salah Mustafa, told the BBC: "Compared with the document that we had last year, which was a really horrible constitution, there's a lot of rights."

Gen Sisi in Cairo, 14 Jan Army chief Gen Sisi visited one polling station in Cairo early on Tuesday
Voters show off ballot ink in Cairo, 14 Jan Voters show off ballot ink in Cairo
Security forces in Alexandria, 15=4 Jan Security forces were out in numbers in Alexandria

But Mohammed Soudan, a spokesman for the Brotherhood's political wing, said most people were boycotting the vote, adding: "This is a message that we are not recognising this kind of new power."

Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi has called the referendum the "most critical moment" for Egypt.

Voters' views

Rawan Ahmed, 23, interior designer in Cairo

"I will boycott because my vote doesn't matter"

Rawan Ahmed, 23

Interim President Adly Mansour said after voting: "The people must prove to dark terrorism that they fear nothing."

The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member committee that included only two representatives of Islamist parties.

The authorities maintain that it is a crucial step towards stability.

Under the new constitution:

  • The president may serve two four-year terms and can be impeached by parliament
  • Islam remains the state religion - but freedom of belief is absolute, giving some protection to minorities
  • The state guarantees "equality between men and women"
  • Parties may not be formed based on "religion, race, gender or geography"
  • Military to appoint defence minister for next eight years

Critics say the new constitution favours the army at the expense of the people, and fails to deliver on the 2011 revolution.

Egypt's constitutional referendum explained - in 60 seconds

A Yes vote could lead to fresh elections and it now seems certain that Gen Sisi, who backed Mr Morsi's removal following mass protests, will run for president.

Turnout 'key'

Egypt key dates

  • 25 Jan 2011: Anti-government protests begin
  • 11 Feb 2011: President Hosni Mubarak resigns
  • 24 June 2012: Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi wins presidential elections
  • 26 Dec 2012: President Morsi signs a controversial new constitution into law following a referendum
  • 3 July 2013: President Morsi is deposed after street protests
  • 14 Aug 2013: Hundreds of pro-Morsi supporters killed when troops clear sit-in protests
  • 4 Nov 2013: Mohammed Morsi goes on trial
  • 14 Jan 2014: Referendum held on new constitution

The constitution is expected to attract a resounding Yes vote, but the turnout is key, analysts say.

The last charter, passed just over a year ago, was approved by 63.8%, but only 32.9% of the population voted.

Mohammed Morsi was Egypt's first democratically elected president but was deposed by the military last July.

He is being held in jail in Alexandria, facing several criminal charges relating to his time in office - which he says are politically motivated.

More than 1,000 people have died in violence since Mr Morsi's overthrow.

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