- Associated Press - Saturday, December 22, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians voted on Saturday in the second and final phase of a referendum on an Islamist-backed constitution that has polarized the nation, with little indication that the result of the vote will end the political crisis in which the country is mired.

For some supporters, a ‘yes’ vote was a chance to restore some normalcy after nearly two years of tumultuous transitional politics following Egypt’s 2011 revolution, or to make society and laws more Islamic. Opponents saw their ‘no’ vote as a way to preserve the country’s secular traditions and prevent President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood group from getting a lock on power.

Hours before polls closed, Morsi’s vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, announced his resignation. The move was in part expected since the new charter would eliminate the vice presidency post. But Mekki hinted that the hurried departure could be linked to Morsi’s policies.

“I have realized a while ago that the nature of politics don’t suit my professional genesis as a judge,” his resignation letter, read on state TV, said. He said he had first submitted his resignation last month but events forced him to stay on.

Voters reflected the schism over the constitution — and over Morsi himself.

Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, second right, waits in line outside a polling place in Beni Suef, Egypt, to vote on a constitution drafted by Islamist supporters of President Mohammed Morsi, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Mohamed Nohan, El Shorouk Newspaper)
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, second right, waits in line outside a ... more >

“I came early to make sure my ‘no’ is among the first of millions today,” oil company manager Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz said as he waited in line outside a polling station in the Dokki district of Giza, Cairo’s twin city on the west bank of the Nile.

“I am here to say ‘no’ to Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

Another Giza voter, Sahar Mohamed Zakaria, had a different take on Saturday’s vote.

“I’m voting ‘yes’ for stability,” Zakaria, an accountant and mother of three, announced.

Saturday’s vote is taking place in 17 of Egypt’s 27 provinces with about 25 million eligible voters. The first phase on Dec. 15 produced a “yes” majority of about 56 percent with a turnout of some 32 percent, according to preliminary results.

Preliminary results for the second round are expected late Saturday or early Sunday. The charter is expected to pass, but a low turnout or relatively low “yes” vote could undermine perceptions of its legitimacy.

As was the case in last week’s vote, opposition and rights activists reported numerous irregularities: polling stations opening later than scheduled, Islamists outside stations trying to influence voters to say “yes,” and independent monitors denied access.

In any case, the result is unlikely to spell an end to the profound divisions that the circumstances of the charter’s passage have opened in Egypt’s worst turmoil since the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.

For the past four weeks, both the opposition and the Islamists have brought giant crowds out into the streets in rallies — first over decrees by Morsi that gave him sweeping powers, though they were since revoked, and then over the charter itself, which was finalized by a Constituent Assembly made up almost entirely of Islamists amid a boycott by liberal and Christian members.

The rallies and protests repeatedly turned in to clashes, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 1,000. The most recent came on the eve of Saturday’s voting, when Islamists and Morsi opponents battled each other for hours with stones in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.

Story Continues →