CAIRO – A referendum on a new constitution laid bare the sharp divisions in Egypt six months after the military removed the elected Islamist president.
Pro-army voters lined up Tuesday outside polling stations, singing patriotic songs, kissing images of Egypt’s top officer and sharing their upbeat hopes for their troubled nation.
Despite heavy security, 11 people were killed in sporadic violence, with protesters burning tires and pelting police with rocks and firebombs to create just enough danger to keep many voters at home.
The two-day balloting will likely pave the way for a possible presidential run by the nation’s top general after he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last July, setting off a fierce crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
It’s also a key milestone in a military-backed political roadmap toward new elections for a president and a parliament after the coup, which has left Egypt sharply divided between Brotherhood supporters in one camp and the military and security forces in the other, as well as a large segment of the population exacerbated by three years of turmoil.
Amid a climate of fear and paranoia, authorities, the mostly pro-military media and a significant segment of the population are showing little or no tolerance for dissent. Campaigning for a no vote risked arrest by the police, and Egyptians who have publicized their opposition to the charter, even just parts of it, are quickly labeled as traitors.
About 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 police officers fanned out across the nation of 90 million people to protect polling stations and voters against possible attacks by militants loyal to Morsi.
Cars were prevented from parking or driving by polling stations, and women were searched by female police officers. Military helicopters hovered over Cairo and other major cities.
Shortly before polls opened, an explosion struck a Cairo courthouse, damaging its facade and shattering windows in nearby buildings but causing no casualties in the neighborhood of Imbaba – a Brotherhood stronghold.