Voters cast ballot at a polling station in Qaliobeya, 40 kilometers north of Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 22, 2012. Egyptians started Saturday morning casting their votes in the final round of a controversial constitutional referendum that had stirred up divisions between the country's liberals and Islamists. (Xinhua/Amru Salahuddien)
by Chen Cong
CAIRO, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Egyptians started Saturday morning casting their votes in the final round of a controversial constitutional referendum that had stirred up divisions between the country's liberals and Islamists.
As many as 25 million eligible voters in 17 governorates, including Giza, Suez, Ismailia and Port Said, start to cast their votes at 8:00 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) to determine the destiny of the country's draft constitution, while the first stage in last week covered Cairo, Alexandria and eight other governorates, according to a republican decree issued by President Mohamed Morsi on Dec. 12.
Due to the high turnout noted by the Supreme Election Commission, the closing time of the referendum was extended from 7: 00 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) to 11:00 p.m. (2100 GMT).
In another development, Vice President Mahmoud Mekki submitted a resignation on Saturday afternoon. Mekki said in his resignation that he had informed this request to President Morsi since November, but it had been interrupted by continued unrest in the country and in the region.
The day before of the second stage of the historic referendum, fresh clashes erupted between Islamists and their opponents in Egypt's northern seaside city of Alexandria, leaving more than 70 people injured.
The pro- and anti-Islamist protesters hurled stones at each other outside Qaed Ibrahim Mosque in Alexandria, forcing security forces to use tear gas and establish a barrier to disperse the crowd, eyewitnesses told Xinhua.
The clashes erupted as several thousand Islamists gathered outside the mosque, chanting statements in support of Morsi, the Sharia (Islamic law) and the draft constitution, while their opponents gathered at the opposite side and shouted anti-Islamist slogans in response.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil cast his ballot on Saturday in a polling station in Dokki district, Giza, hours after his call for all eligible voters to cast ballots in the second phase.
President Morsi had cast his ballot in the first round last week in the Misr al-Gedida district where the presidential palace is located.
Xinhua reporter saw a number of polling stations opened their doors later than scheduled in Qena governorate due to the absence of judges. More judges were transferred urgently by helicopters from Cairo to Qena.
Similar cases were also reported in other governorates, as voters formed long queues outside the stations.
Regarding the concerns over the shortage of supervising judges, Samir al-Qamash, senior member from the Counselors' Club of the state issues administration, confirmed that the second phase of the referendum is fully conducted under judges' watch.
More than 6,000 judges from various judicial sectors have signed up to take the overseeing duty, Qamash added.
Similar to the first stage of the referendum, many voters are hesitant about the constitution.
In Suez governorate, Nazeef Ahmed, 60, told Xinhua that he rejects the constitution because it was written by a part of Egyptians, not by the whole Egyptians. "If this constitution passes, the fate of Egypt will turn to be the worst in its history, " he said.
"I will say 'No' of course!" said Radwa Hamed, a 33-year-old teacher, while waiting in a long queue at her polling station at Sheikh Zayed District, 6th of October City, Giza. "This constitution has a lot of articles that would ruin Egypt and it was written by dishonest people whom we don't trust," she added.
A face-veiled woman, 41, identifying herself Umm al-Loay, said she accepts the constitution in general and will tick "yes" on it, even if there are some concerns.
"Even if there are some concerns on the constitution, they can be modified through the parliament. Stabilizing the country is very urgent now," she said.
Karam Abdel Baky, 57, said "It is really a good day for me to come and express my mind, and the process is going very smoothly."
"I will say yes to the constitution as it is full of freedom and supports the economy," added Abdel Baky at the polling station of Yousef Gadallah school in Haram district of Giza.
For its part, Egyptian Foreign Ministry has sent the Egyptian expatriates' voting results to the Supreme Election Commission on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Assistant for Consular Affairs and Egyptians Abroad Ali al-Ashiri was quoted Saturday by official MENA as saying that the ministry has fulfilled its role in this respect after handing over the voting results, refusing to reveal any details.
Egyptian embassies and consulates abroad have announced the results separately after counting votes, al-Ashiri said, stressing the voting results of Egyptian expatriates will be unveiled by the electoral commission with the general voting results of the referendum in Egypt.
About 235,000 Egyptian expatriates among a total of 586,000 were qualified to cast their ballots in Egyptian embassies and consulates overseas from Dec. 12 to Dec. 17.
Late November, 85 members of the beleaguered Constituent Assembly (CA) approved the draft constitution after a 17-hour marathon vote. Morsi then called on Egyptians to cast their votes in the referendum.
Most liberals, leftists and Copts consider the draft written by the Islamist-dominated assembly does not represent all Egyptians, especially after major representatives of the civil camp had withdrawn from the assembly due to unbridgeable division with the Islamic side on some of the articles.
Head of the civil al-Wafd Party Sayyed al-Badawi said Saturday that it is likely that parties of the opposition National Salvation Front will boycott the parliamentary elections expected to take place in about two months in case the constitution is approved, official MENA reported.
Initial results show a turnout of about 31 percent in the first stage of referendum last week, with 56 percent of voters approving the draft constitution.
CAIRO, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Millions of Egyptians marked their big day on Saturday to vote on a disputed draft constitution in the second and final stage of referendum, which covers 17 governorates.
Crowds of voters lined up in long queues outside polling stations to say "Yes" or "No" to the new constitution, reflecting high turnout in many governorates. The electoral commission then extended the closing time from 7:00 p.m. local time (1700 GMT) to 11:00 p.m. local time (21:00 GMT). Full story