Middle East News
Tensions high as Egyptians vote in first post-Mubarak referendum
Mar 19, 2011, 6:05 GMT
Cairo - Tensions were high Saturday as Egyptians voted - for the first time since president Hosny Mubarak was ousted - on a constitutional reform referendum that many believe will decide the fate of the revolution.
Polling stations in most of the country opened at 8 am (0600 GMT) and were expected to close at 7 pm (1700 GMT).
Some 40 million Egyptians are eligible to vote either yes or no on a bulk of constitutional amendments.
The amendments would ease restrictions on who can run for president, make it more arduous for a president to continue the current state of emergency, and set term limits on the presidency.
But rights groups and legal experts have blasted the changes, saying they were hastily written and do not ensure an end to the era where presidential powers often trumped constitutional parameters.
The amendments were drafted by a team of 10 legal experts who were chosen by the country's military council, which has been in control since Mubarak was toppled five weeks ago.
A fierce debate has brewed for weeks in Egypt about whether the country is in need of an entirely new constitution - rather than an amended one - before legislative elections can take place.
Activists, many of whom led the revolution, have been campaigning for a no vote, saying new political parties need more time to organize under an entirely new constitution.
Proponents of the amendments mostly include those in Mubarak's former National Democratic Party and, oddly, their strongest rivals, the Muslim Brotherhood. Both have said voting in favour of the amendments will ensure a quick transition of power to civilian rule and stability.
The referendum is expected to be monitored by thousands of judges and civil society groups, which had been largely curtailed under Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule.
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