8:00am

Sat March 19, 2011
Middle East

Egyptians Vote On Amendments To Constitution

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Egyptians vote today in the first election since ousting Hosni Mubarak from power last month. At stake: nine amendments to the constitution that the former ruler helped create. Supporters say the referendum is the first step toward a real democracy in Egypt. But opponents argue the measures leave too much power in the hands of Egypt's future presidents and they want the constitution scrapped.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports voter turnout is unusually high in some districts.

(Soundbite of people speaking foreign language)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Voters pack the streets around the polling station in the upper-class neighborhood in Zamalek here in Cairo. Accountant Abeid Mossad is one of many here who say they are voting for the first time.

Mr. ABEID MOSSAD (Accountant): It's worth it, it's worth it. Once every 30 years to do this, it's worth it. All my generation have never seen this before.

NELSON: Fellow first-time voter Mona Mustafa, who's been waiting for more than an hour, says she will stay as long as it takes to cast her ballot.

Ms. MONA MUSTAFA: You don't feel like it's rigged; you feel like your voice counts and that when you vote your yes or no vote, it will really be counted, hopefully. Inshallah, as they say.

NELSON: She and other voters interviewed at this polling station say they are voting no on the amendments to the Egyptian constitution. They find them murky and argue the constitution needs to be completely rewritten, lest too much power is left in the hands of future presidents.

Some analysts here question why the measures were never officially publicized. Gianluca Parolin is an assistant law professor at American University in Cairo.

Professor GIANLUCA PAROLIN (Law, American University, Cairo): The outcome of the referendum will also depend politically, I think, on the informed decision of the voter. Now, that has been a major problem because the final text of the amendments was never truly released.

NELSON: With Egypt's history of rigged elections, many here wonder whether today's referendum will be free and fair.

(Soundbite of people talking)

NELSON: Independent monitors, like Amr Shalanky, are being sent to the polls to prevent fraud. He complains the referendum was poorly planned.

Mr. AMR SHALANKY (Independent Monitor): Most of the NGOs have been taken by surprise that this is actually happening. I have personal friends who are judges who don't know until today which electoral circuits they're supposed to be supervising.

NELSON: Referendum officials say independent judges will also oversee ballot counting, the results from which are not expected until early next week.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.