Egypt Referendum Marred By Irregularities

In Egypt, unofficial results show the country's controversial draft constitution was narrowly approved in the first stage of a referendum held this past Saturday. The draft constitution has deeply divided Egyptians. The second round of voting will take place this Saturday.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, to the unfolding political events in Egypt. Unofficial results show the country's controversial draft constitution was narrowly approved in the first stage of a referendum held on Saturday. But there are reports of irregularities and calls by prominent Egyptian rights groups for the results to be thrown out. Those calls have gone unanswered as the Islamist government prepares for the second and last stage of the referendum to be held later this week. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The draft constitution has deeply divided Egyptians. Its supporters claim the document provides their country with a badly needed roadmap. Opponents argue that it leaves too much power in the hands of the president and armed forces, while chipping away at Egypt's historically secular identity. The Islamist government's hastily arranged referendum on the constitution is heightening tensions. Complaints about fraud emerged even before the first stage of the vote drew to a close late Saturday night.

TAQADOM AL KHATEEB: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: At a news conference here, Egyptian activist Taqadom al Khateeb charged that ballots given to many voters lacked the requisite government stamp, rendering them invalid. Hatid claimed some judges said the ballots will be stamped later. That left open the possibility that any votes election officials didn't like would end up tossed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Unstamped ballots let to arguments like this one NPR witnessed outside a polling station in old Cairo. There were other problems reported, as well. Hundreds of female voters in the northern port city of Alexandria blocked a major road after a polling station supervisor allegedly refused to let them in to cast ballots. Nevertheless, millions of Egyptian voters were determined to have their say.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Lines stretched for blocks at this polling station in the Cairo enclave of Heliopolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: A half-hour drive away in the middle-class neighborhood of Manial, housewife Ghada Metwally explained why she came out.

GHADA METWALLY: I'm thinking about my child, not about me. I am talking about the future. We are afraid about our children, so we have to vote either yes or no.

NELSON: She declined to say how she voted.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: In Old Cairo, computer programmer Ahmed Kamel said it was exciting to be voting on a post-revolution constitution. He added: For the first time, I feel like we are making a difference. The government won't release the official outcome of Saturday's vote until the referendum is over. But based on unofficial reports from political parties that monitor the polls, the draft constitution was approved by roughly 57 percent of the voters who turned out. A yes vote is also expected in the final stage of the referendum next Saturday. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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