By Hamza Hendawi
and Maggie Michael
CAIRO: A referendum on a new constitution laid bare the sharp divisions in Egypt six months after the military removed the elected Islamist president, with pro-army voters lining up Tuesday outside polling stations, singing patriotic songs, kissing images of Egypt’s top officer and sharing upbeat hopes for their troubled nation.
Sporadic violence flared across much of the country, leaving 11 dead, with protesters burning tires and pelting police with rocks and firebombs.
The first of two days of voting yielded telling signs that the national sentiment was overwhelmingly behind military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose possible presidential run later this year has grown more likely by the day.
Standing in line to cast his ballot, Ismail Mustafa said he was voting “yes” in the hope of ending the turmoil that has engulfed Egypt since the 2011 ouster of the country’s longtime autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak.
“This is it, we have had it. I will vote ‘yes’ even if it is the last thing I do,” Mustafa declared outside a Cairo polling station.
The vote is taking place in a climate of fear and paranoia, with authorities, the mostly pro-military media and a significant number of Egyptians showing little or no tolerance for dissent. Campaigning for a “no” vote risked arrest by the police. Egyptians who have voiced their opposition to the charter, or even just parts of it, are quickly labeled as traitors.