Protesters continued to occupy both Tahrir Square and the streets around the presidential palace as voting began in Egypt’s referendum on a new constitution.
The country’s president Mohamed Mursi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, controversially called the vote at short notice.
A queue of voters formed outside Talaat Harb All Girls School in central Cairo at 8am. Army and police watched over as men and women stood in their separate queues.
Mireille was an early voter at the polling station. “It’s important people get out and vote no,” she said. “There is a lot to fear in this constitution. It’s a serious problem to bring religion in to the running Egyptian society in this way. It’s like we got rid of one bad ruler and now we have another in his place. The revolution didn’t ask for this.”
Others were suspicious of the whole process and the danger that Mursi was going to get the result he wanted whatever the actual vote.
“I don’t trust this, there were three men in suits in there who said they are overseeing the vote. But who are these people?” said one women who didn’t want to give her name,
“I asked to see their ID but they refused to show me. We all have ID—if they were judges or legal people they would have shown it. And we haven’t got an ink mark,” she added showing me her hands. ”How do we know that people haven’t voted more than once?”
Queues formed at some polling stations before they opened at 8am. Today (Saturday) 26.6 million people are eligible to vote in ten out of 27 governates in the country. The remaining 24.7 million people of the electorate will vote in a week’s time.
This vote is divided between two days because the majority of the country’s judges refused to oversee the polling. Many people fear that this increases the risk of vote rigging. Also the results of today’s vote will be announced before the next polling day, which could have an impact on the final result.
Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood are running a propaganda campaign that tells Muslims that to vote against the constitution means voting against Islam. Yet it’s clear from the number of Muslims involved in the opposition that these scare tactics are not working.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the presidential palace the night before the first polling. The previous week a mass demonstration of tens of thousands broke through barricades and a wall constructed by the military to protect the area around the palace. Protesters were furious at Mursi’s attempt to grab even greater powers.
A “No” campaign camp has remained outside the palace even after Mursi dropped the new powers. And now the protesters decide who comes in though the breached wall.
This means Mursi is forced to come to work through the palace’s back door. His presidential guard stand across the front gates beside their white booth, which has “leave “ spray painted on it. The walls of the palace are completely covered with anti Mursi graffiti.
On Friday night families mingled with groups of young people chanting, people gave out political leaflets and carried huge banner with the faces of the martyrs of the revolution. There were vuvezuelas and barbeques of corn on the cob. It was more like a carnival than protest—except for the tanks in the middle of the road and soldiers looking on.
One tented area covered in posters and photos was showing video footage of the revolution on a makeshift canvas screen. The sign above said “Museum of the Second Revolution”. The first was Tahrir, now it’s spread to the palace.
Revolutionary Socialists are part of the camp, their tent identified with a familiar red flag with a red fist. They have been campaigning for a no vote, taking leaflets around working class and poor areas of Cairo.
Mursi reversed planned price hikes on cigarettes, bread and other basics just before the referendum. Revolutionary Socialist Hatem, told me, “We explain to people that if he wins this he will just re-impose the price rises. The IMF won’t give him a loan unless he puts prices up.”
“For some Muslims to vote against the Brotherhood is breaking a big taboo. They are being told it is a vote against their religion. But this is blackmail.” He added,” Anger at Mursi shows how much people feel let down, they fought for social justice and they don’t see him delivering that”.