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Egyptians went to the polls today at the start of a two-day referendum on a draft constitution. The day was marred by violence in parts of the country. At least 11 people were killed, as protesters boycotting the vote clashed with police. Egypt remains deeply polarized - on one side, supporters of the military, and on the other, those who back ousted President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: At a polling station in central Cairo, women - young and old - lined up to cast their ballots. They chatted excitedly among themselves, and they all agreed they would vote yes - yes to the constitution and yes to the military. Maha Mutawah waited in line with her friends.
MAHA MUTAWAH: It's important because you want your country to be stable. You want the investment to come. You want the tourism to start to work. We don't have this all the time. We have chaos.
FADEL: She says a yes vote will secure Egypt, and so will a new president. That election will likely come next. I ask if they have anyone in mind for the presidency. Mutawah and her friend, Nazly El Triedy, started to giggle.
MUTAWAH: Well, there is a person who - the whole nation love him. This is al-Sissi. We need a strong president at the moment to be able to keep the country together.
FADEL: That's military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the man who led the coup last July that ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
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FADEL: Sissi spent the day touring polling stations where he waved at cheering voters. Prior to the referendum, Sissi was quoted in state media saying that if Egyptians requested it, he might run for president. A big turnout and a yes to the constitution may be the request Sissi spoke of. It is still too early to gauge turnout in the referendum. But in tours of several polling stations today, no one acknowledged casting a no vote.
At another polling station in central Cairo, the minister of scientific research, Ramzy Estino, stood in line to cast his ballot.
RAMSY ESTINO: If you are Egyptian, you have to go for the referendum and say yes.
FADEL: For analysts, the minister's comments highlight how little space there is for dissent. Prior to the referendum, some people who campaigned for a no vote where arrested. Analysts question whether the vote can be fair when one part of society is excluded, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now banned and labeled a terrorist organization. Nathan Brown is a political science and international affairs professor at George Washington University.
NATHAN BROWN: The outcome could reflect the will of the majority of the Egyptian people. But it's still hard to call it a free and fair election.
FADEL: Brown says while most Egyptians support the military, the results of the vote will likely further divide Egypt.
BROWN: Egypt is embarking on a dangerous path in which important political actors are sitting out or being pushed out - a combination - and that that's not a recipe for stability.
FADEL: There was violence in parts of the country today. A bomb detonated outside a courthouse in northern Giza just before polls opened. And police clashed with protesters boycotting the constitution, mostly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
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FADEL: In one bastion of support for the Brotherhood, the village of Kerdasa, just west of Cairo, plumes of smoke billowed from burning tires in the middle of the street as police and protesters clashed. The walls were covered in graffiti urging people to boycott the referendum.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: Nearby, men covered their eyes from the stinging teargas.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
FADEL: And a village resident, Hanafi Abdel Baqi, said the only thing that freedom has brought is chaos. He said he will vote yes to the constitution to support the military because security is more important than freedom. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.
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