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Violence erupts as Egyptians vote on new constitution

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At least five people killed in clashes as voting begins in Egypt, state-run media say
  • Egyptians are voting on a draft constitution that would ban religious parties
  • The constitution would also put more power in the hands of the military
  • Hundreds have died amid political turmoil in Egypt over the past three years

By Reza Sayah, Tom Watkins and Saad Abedine

CAIRO (CNN) -- Violence marked the beginning of a two-day referendum as Egyptians went to the polls Tuesday for the second time in 13 months to reshape their country's future.

Five people died in clashes, the semiofficial Al-Ahram news agency reported.

One person was killed, two were injured and 10 were arrested in clashes Tuesday afternoon outside a polling station in Nahya, Giza, the news agency said, citing the Interior Ministry.

The dead protester had been demonstrating in favor of Mohamed Morsy, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader who became the nation's first democratically elected president in June 2012 but was ousted from the job a year later in a military coup.

Another three people were killed and four injured in Upper Egypt's Sohag governorate in a pro-Muslim Brotherhood march, the agency said, citing a security source.

A two-hour drive south of Cairo, in the city of Beni Suef, a 25-year-old member of the Muslim Brotherhood was fatally shot during a clash with security forces, state-run media reported. The MENA and EgyNews agencies said the man was trying to storm a polling station.

Earlier Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood said peaceful protesters in Beni Suef had been chanting "against the referendum of blood."

The violence began even before polls opened at 9 a.m., when a bomb exploded near a Cairo courthouse. No one was hurt, security officials said.

Despite the explosion, Egyptians waited in long lines to cast their ballots.

"This will not scare us," said Mohamed Moharram, a teacher who lives near the court. "In half an hour I will go to my poll station and cast my ballot."

Marred by violence

Tuesday's deaths were but the latest twist in three years of political upheaval marked by two presidential departures and hundreds of deaths.

Tuesday's referendum -- the first national vote since Morsy's ouster -- is about changing the constitution to ban religious parties and give more power to the military. If the draft is passed, elections should follow.

A deep political divide is evident between supporters of the interim military government and defenders of Morsy.

Protesters near the Cairo court held aloft a poster of Egyptian army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and chanted, "People want the execution of the Muslim Brotherhood" and the "army and people are one hand."

What's in this draft

Egyptians voted on the last constitution in December 2012 while Morsy was still in power. But that constitution was suspended after the military deposed him in July.

The latest proposal differs from the last constitution in several ways.

Some say the draft constitution would mean improved human rights and freedom of expression. The new version explicitly states that women are equal to men and allows them to hold official and judicial posts, Al-Ahram said.

The new articles would also give parliament the right to impeach the president in the event of a breach of the provisions of the constitution, Al-Ahram said. Other new articles would criminalize torture, discrimination and arbitrary forced displacement.

Critics say the latest draft would give too much power to the military without any civilian oversight. For example, the draft gives tremendous leeway to the army to try civilians in military courts -- something many Egyptians have opposed for years.

What's behind Egypt's turmoil

Morsy's opponents said he was a tyrant trying to impose conservative values, but Morsy's supporters say that the military has now returned to the authoritarian practices of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in a popular uprising in 2011.

Hundreds died in clashes between Egyptian security forces and Morsy supporters in the weeks that followed his ouster. Many in the Muslim Brotherhood hold el-Sisi, as the military chief, responsible for the bloodshed.

In a statement issued amid the crisis, el-Sisi said, "Egypt has room for everybody, and we are keen to save every drop of Egyptian blood." He added, "The Egyptian people are free to choose whoever to govern them, while the armed forces will remain the safeguard of the will of the people and of their choice."

Morsy has been in detention since July and faces charges of inciting the murders of at least three protesters outside the presidential palace in 2012. The protests were over the constitution that Morsy shepherded into effect.

 

CNN's Reza Sayah reported from Cairo; Tom Watkins, Holly Yan and Saad Abedine reported from Atlanta. Sarah Sirgany, Richard Allen Greene and Laura Smith-Spark also contributed to this report.

 

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