Feature: Egyptians vote on historical referendum with high turnout

12:49, March 20, 2011      

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The Egyptian people participated in the referendum on constitutional amendments with an unprecedented turnout on Saturday, showing their enthusiasm in joining the rebuilding of the country's future political system.

Egyptians poured into polling stations nationwide on the voting day for the first time since president Hosni Mubarak's stepping down, knowing clearly how significant the constitution is for Egypt's future and revelling in their voice being heard.

A queue of nearly 20 people was formed even before the vote kicked off outside a school polling station on the Cornishe Nile Street in south Cairo.

"You can see the situation is quite different from before. More people come to vote than I expected," said school manager Mohamed Abdullah, whose school saw only a few dozens of voters the whole morning in the previous parliamentary election last November.

Some 45 million eligible voters, over half of the country's population, are encouraged to cast their vote either "yes" or "no" in the referendum in some 54,000 polling stations across Egypt which opened at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT).

More and more people came to the station in an endless stream, making the queue became over 50. There are men and women, young and old. Some voters came with the whole family, while some others with a group of friends or colleagues hurry to retune to work.

Even thousands of children were brought to polling stations by their parents to experience this democratic event in the history of the country.

The ruling Egyptian armed forces deployed 36,000 soldiers together with police forces in polling stations around the country to ensure security. However, the referendum as a whole was run peacefully and quietly. People waited patiently, casting the ballots orderly and leave easily, while soldiers carrying rifles smiled at foreign journalists at the gate.

But the tranquil air cannot cover the sharp division of Egyptian people's opinion over the referendum, indicating a result far from lopsided.

The constitutional amendments have faced objection from a number of political parties, groups and figures, who called on citizens to veto it.

"I voted no because we want new constitution for the new era, and this is the first time I feel that I live in a democratic country," said Ahmad Abdelhakim, 25, adding many articles remained unchanged in the amendments with the president still enjoying great power.

"No" advocates believed that the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood members will be the only organized forces to gain the most.

"The Islamic radical movements dream to rule the country and if we say yes it means that the Muslim Brotherhood will gain a majority of seats in the parliament and Christian will no longer have a place in Egypt," said Ussama Waguib, a Coptic Christian in his thirties.

But advocators regard the amendments as a good start and stress the need of national stability. "I voted yes because this is a good step forward, and many things we dreamed of have happened," said Mohamed Salama, a young worker, adding "for the time being we cannot say no because there is chaos in the country."

"We have to say yes for stability and things go back to normal, " said Ayman Ebeid, a company employee, "we can't change all overnight."

Anyway, every Egyptian citizen should be happy to see the massive public participation in this crucial transition period since high turnout reflected high expectations of people to the country's future.

As Amr Moussa, one of the possible candidates for the next presidential polls, said, the most important is that people are practicing new democracy to move towards freedom and creating a better future for all, rather than the result of the referendum.

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