Egyptians voted on Saturday in the final round of a referendum on a controversial new constitution championed by President Mohamed Mursi and his Islamist allies with little indication that the expected passage of the charter will end the political crisis in which the country is mired.
On the eve of polling, clashes in Egypt’s second city Alexandria injured 62 people as stone-throwing mobs torched vehicles, underlining the turmoil gripping the Arab world’s most populous nation.
On Dec. 5, eight people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between rival demonstrators outside the presidential palace in Cairo.
Some 250,000 police and soldiers were deployed to provide security during the referendum. The army has also positioned tanks around the presidential palace since early this month.
The proposed charter was expected to be adopted after already garnering 57 percent support in the first round of the referendum a week ago.
The main opposition group, the National Salvation Front, alleged in a statement that ballot fraud had taken place since the polls opened, including reports of laymen posing as judges supposed to oversee the vote.
Mursi’s vice president, Mahmud Mekki, whose post is not mentioned in the new charter, announced on Saturday that he was resigning.
“Political work does not suit my professional character,” he said in a statement, referring to his past as a respected judge.
State television reported that Central Bank chief Faruq El-Okda had also resigned, but later cited a cabinet source as denying this had happened.
A slim margin and a low first-round turnout in the referendum is expected to embolden the opposition, which looks likely to continue its campaign against Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers.
Electoral officials announced they were extending voting by four hours, to 11:00 pm (21:00 GMT), as they did in the first round.
The promise of stability even drew one Christian woman in Fayoum, south of Cairo, to vote “yes” - a break with most Christians nationwide who oppose the draft. Hanaa Zaki said she wanted an end to Egypt's deepening economic woes.
“I have a son who didn't get paid for the past six months. We have been in this crisis for so long and we are fed up,” said Zaki, waiting in line along with bearded Muslim men and Muslim women wearing headscarves in Fayoum, a province that is home to both a large Christian community and a strong Islamist movement.
In Giza's upscale Mohandiseen neighborhood, a group of 12 women speaking to each other in a mix of French, Arabic and English said they all intended to vote “no.”
“My friends are Muslim and are voting 'no.' It's not about Christian versus Muslim, but it is Muslim Brotherhood versus everyone else,” said one of them, Shahira Sadeq, a Christian physician.
Kamla el-Tantawi, 65, said she voted no “against what I'm seeing” - and she gestured at a woman nearby wearing the full-face veil known as niqab, a hallmark of ultraconservative Muslim women.
“I lose sleep thinking about my grandchildren and their future. They never saw the beautiful Egypt we did,” she said, harkening back to a time decades ago when few women even wore headscarves covering their hair, much less the black niqab that blankets the entire body and leaves only the eyes visible.
In the neighboring, poorer district of Imbaba, Zeinab Khalil - a mother of three who wears the niqab - was backing the charter.
“Morsi, God willing, will be better than those who came before him,” she said. “A 'yes' vote moves the country forward. We want things to calm down, more jobs and better education.”
The voices reflected the multiple concerns that have been shaking Egypt for weeks. For some, the dispute has been about Shariah and greater religion in public life - whether to bring it about or block it. In many areas, clerics have been preaching in favor of the charter in their sermon.
But the dispute has also been about political power. An opposition made up of liberals, leftists, secular Egyptians and a swath of the public angered over Morsi's 5-month-old rule fear that Islamists are creating a new Mubarak-style autocracy.
Morsi's allies say the opposition is trying to use the streets to overturn their victories at the ballot box over the past two years. They also accuse the opposition of carrying out a conspiracy by former members of Mubarak's regime to regain power.
Many voters were under no illusions the turmoil would end.
“I don't trust the Brotherhood anymore and I don't trust the opposition either. We are forgotten, the most miserable and the first to suffer,” said Azouz Ayesh, sitting with his neighbors as their cattle grazed in a nearby field in the Fayoum countryside.
He said a yes would bring stability and a no would mean no stability. But, he added, “I will vote against this constitution.”
In Ikhsas village, Marianna Abdel-Messieh, a Christian, was the only woman not wearing a head scarf in the women's line outside a polling center. She was voting “no,” but expected that whatever the result, Egypt would see more rule by Shariah.
“So, whether this constitution passes or not, there will be trouble,” she said. “God have mercy on us.”