UPDATE 3-Egypt extends voting on Islamist-drafted charter

Shaimaa Fayed and Edmund Blair
Reuters Middle East

* Constitution backed by 57 percent in first round vote

* End of voting pushed back by four hours

* Rights groups report some irregularities

* Parliamentary election to follow if approved

CAIRO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Egypt extended voting by four

hours on Saturday in the second and decisive round of a

referendum that was expected to approve the country's new

Islamist-drafted constitution after weeks of protests and


Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Mursi, who was

elected in June, say the charter is vital to move Egypt towards

democracy, nearly two years after an Arab Spring revolution

overthrew authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

It will help restore the stability needed to fix an economy

that is on the ropes, they say.

But the opposition says the document is divisive and has

accused Mursi of pushing through a text that favours his

Islamist allies while ignoring the rights of Christians, who

make up about 10 percent of the population, as well as women.

"I'm voting 'no' because Egypt can't be ruled by one

faction," said Karim Nahas, 35, a stockbroker, heading to a

polling station in Giza, a province included in this round of

voting which covers parts of greater Cairo.

At another polling station, some voters said they were more

interested in ending Egypt's long period of political

instability than in the Islamist aspects of the charter.

"We have to extend our hands to Mursi to help fix the

country," said Hisham Kamal, an accountant.

Queues formed at some polling stations around the country

and voting was extended by four hours to 11 p.m. (2100 GMT).

Unofficial tallies are likely to emerge within hours of the

close, but the referendum committee may not declare an official

result for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals.


As polling opened on Saturday, a coalition of Egyptian

rights groups reported a number of alleged irregularities.

They said some polling stations had opened late, that

Islamists urging a "yes" vote had illegally campaigned at some

stations, and complained of irregularities in voter registration

irregularities, including the listing of one dead person.

The first round of voting last week resulted in a 57 percent

vote in favour of the constitution, according to unofficial


Analysts expect another "yes" on Saturday because the vote

covers rural and other areas seen as having more Islamist

sympathisers. Islamists may also be able to count on many

Egyptians who are simply exhausted by two years of upheaval.

Among the provisions of the new basic law are a limit of two

four-year presidential terms. It says the principles of sharia

law remain the main source of legislation but adds an article to

explain this further. It also says Islamic authorities will be

consulted on sharia - a source of concern to Christians and

other non-Muslims.

If the constitution is passed, a parliamentary election will

be held in about two months. If not, an assembly will have to

be set up to draft a new one.

After the first round of voting, the opposition said a

litany of alleged abuses meant the first stage of the referendum

should be re-run.

But the committee overseeing the two-stage vote said its

investigations showed no major irregularities in voting on Dec.

15, which covered about half of Egypt's 51 million voters.

There was no indication on Saturday that the alleged abuses

were any worse than those claimed during the first round.


Even if the charter is approved, the opposition say it is a

recipe for trouble since it has not received broad consensus

backing from the population. They say the result may go in

Mursi's favour but it will not be the result of a fair vote.

"I see more unrest," said Ahmed Said, head of the liberal

Free Egyptians Party and a member of the National Salvation

Front, an opposition coalition formed after Mursi expanded his

powers on Nov. 22 and then pushed the constitution to a vote.

Protesters accused the president of acting like a pharaoh,

and he was forced to issue a second decree two weeks ago that

amended a provision putting all his decisions above legal


Said cited "serious violations" on the first day of voting,

and said anger against Mursi and his Islamist allies was

growing. "People are not going to accept the way they are

dealing with the situation."

At least eight people were killed in protests outside the

presidential palace in Cairo this month. Islamists and rivals

clashed on Friday in the second biggest city of Alexandria,

hurling stones at each other. Two buses were torched.

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that

represents Mursi's power base, said the vote was an opportunity

for Egypt to move on.

"After the constitution is settled by the people, the wheels

in all areas will turn, even if there are differences here and

there," the Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, said as

he went to vote in Beni Suef, south of Cairo.

"After choosing a constitution, all Egyptians will be moving

in the same direction," he said.

The vote was staggered after many judges refused to

supervise the ballot, meaning there were not enough to hold the

referendum on a single day nationwide.

The first round was won by a slim enough margin to buttress

opposition arguments that the text was divisive. Opponents who

include liberals, leftists, Christians and more moderate-minded

Muslims accuse Islamists of using religion to sway voters.

Islamists, who have won successive ballots since Mubarak's

overthrow, albeit by narrowing margins, dismiss charges that

they are exploiting religion and say the document reflects the

will of a majority in the country where most people are Muslim.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes