Egyptian election Nationwide referendum is the first major test of transition to democracy
CAIRO — Eager for their first taste of a free vote in decades, Egyptians lined up by the hundreds Saturday to vote on constitutional amendments sponsored by the ruling military that critics fear could propel the country’s largest Islamist group to become Egypt’s most dominant political force.
Egyptian officials count votes at a polling station in Cairo, Saturday following a referendum on constitutional amendments. Critics fear if the amendments pass, it could propel the country’s largest Islamist group to become Egypt’s most dominant political force.
The nationwide referendum is the first major test of the country’s transition to democracy after a popular uprising forced longtime leader Hosni Mubarak to step down five weeks ago, handing the reins of power to the military.
Underscoring the tensions beneath the euphoria, however, a crowd of angry men pelted reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei and a group of his supporters with rocks, bottles and cans outside a polling center at Cairo’s Mokattam district.
ElBaradei, who also was the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, wasn’t injured but was forced to flee in an SUV without casting his ballot. The crowd also smashed the car windows and shouted, “You traitor. We don’t want you.” ElBaradei supporters at the scene countered by chanting“we want you.”
The Nobel laureate later tweeted that “organized thugs” were to blame for the attack. In a second Twitter posting, he said figures from the Mubarak regime were seeking to undermine the revolution, a reference to the uprising that ousted the former leader.
Early signs showed an unusually big turnout, with lines forming before polls opened and snaking along the streets in Cairo and other cities. Men and women stood in separate lines as is customary in the conservative and mainly Muslim nation.
The vote promises to be the freest in Egypt since the 1952 ouster of the monarchy. Egypt has since been ruled by men of military background, with fraud and low turnout defining every nationwide vote.
“This is a historic day for Egypt,” Deputy Prime Minister Yahya al-Gamal said after casting his vote. “I had never seen such large numbers of voters in Egypt. Finally, the people of Egypt have come to realize that their vote counts.”
Voters were asked to choose ’yes’ or ’no’ for the whole package of nine changes.