Egypt opposition says voting rigged

People queue outside a polling centre to vote in a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Cairo 15 December 2012. Egyptians voted on Saturday in a referendum on a new constitution shaped by Islamist allies of Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi and which his liberal rivals say deepens divisions in the nation. Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Published Sunday, December 16, 2012

Updated at 2:06pm: Egypt's opposition cried fraud in Saturday's first round of a divisive referendum on a new constitution, accusing President Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood of rigging their initial win to adopt the Islamist-backed text.

Meanwhile, Egypt's ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, who is serving a life sentence, was injured when he slipped in a prison shower on Saturday, the official MENA news agency reported.

Islamists backing a new constitution for Egypt claimed victory on Sunday in an initial phase of a referendum, but the opposition alleged polling violations and said it would await the final results in a week's time.

A small majority of 56.5 percent voted for the draft charter put to half of Egypt's 51 million voters on Saturday, according to the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian media reported roughly the same figure, which fell short of the landslide the Brotherhood had been hoping for to quiet the restive opposition.

Polling stations in half the country Sunday, including the biggest cities of Cairo and Alexandria, were tallying the results from Saturday's voting.

The second round of the referendum is to be held next Saturday, after which the official result is to be given.

Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood and main media outlets had said earlier Sunday that, based on unofficial figures, it appeared that the polling was trending around 60 percent support for the draft charter.

But the opposition had insisted its preliminary figures suggested that 66 percent of the voters had rejected the proposed constitution. It claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had sought to "rig" the vote.

The opposition National Salvation Front coalition said in a statement that it "will not recognize any unofficial result," and will wait for the formal tally after next Saturday's second round of voting.

There were several reported irregularities in Saturday's voting. Judges meant to oversee the polling stations were said to be absent, and voters were complaining of non-officials pressuring them to vote 'yes' or 'no', or not allowing some to vote at all, Egypt Independent reported.

The official results will be announced after the second round on Saturday.

The proposed charter "offers rights and stability," said one Cairo voter who backed it, Kassem Abdallah.

It will help Egypt "return to normal", agreed another, Ibrahim Mahmoud, a teacher.

The Muslim Brotherhood has thrown its formidable organizational machine behind a campaign in favor of the draft constitution.

And many opposition voters were especially hostile toward the Brotherhood, which the Front believes wants to usher in strict Islamic sharia laws.

"You cannot say that all of Mursi's opponents are 'secular,' but you can say that all of his allies right now are Islamists," Ahmed Kheir, a researcher and human rights activist against the current regime, told Al-Akhbar.

"Two-thirds of Mursi's cabinet were high officials in the old regime; this is not just against the MB but against dictatorship," he said.

Analysts said it was likely -- but not certain -- that the draft constitution would be adopted.

While Kheir also voiced concern over the legitimacy of the referendum procedures, he projected that, either way, the first past the post would most likely win by a slim majority of voters, saying that, even though the opposition dominate the urban centers, most of Mursi's supporters would come from poorer rural areas.

Whatever the outcome, "lasting damage to the civility of Egyptian politics will be the main outcome of the current path Mursi has set Egypt on," one analyst, Issandr El Amrani, wrote for his think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"If the 'no' vote wins, the Mursi presidency will have been fully discredited and the pressure for his resignation will only increase," he said. "If 'yes' wins, the protest movement is unlikely to die down, (and) may radicalize."

Mubarak injured

The former president, who was sentenced over the killings of protesters during the uprising that toppled him last year, was being treated for a head wound and bruising Sunday in the medical ward of the south Cairo prison, MENA reported.

Mubarak, 84, ruled Egypt for three decades before he was forced to resign on February 11, 2011 following 18 days of mass protests.

He was sentenced to life in June along with his interior minister Habib al-Adly for failing to prevent the deaths of around 850 protesters during the uprising.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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