CAIRO - Egyptians abroad began voting on Wednesday, December 12, in a referendum on a disputed constitution that triggered violent clashes in Egypt.
The official state news agency reported voting had started at Egyptian embassies abroad.
Voting on the referendum at home will be spread over two days, December 15 and December 22.
State media said the two-day voting plan had been adopted because many of the judges needed to oversee the vote were staying away in protest at the decision to hold the referendum, so voting had to be staggered to move the judges around.
Voting on Egypt's new constitution, which was fast-tracked by the Islamists-dominated panel, has triggered a deep political crisis.
Opponents said that the constitution does not properly represent the aspirations of the whole nation.
The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under President Hosni Mubarak.
On Tuesday, thousands of opposition supporters had gathered outside the presidential palace in Cairo to demand that Morsi's postpone Saturday's referendum.
A bigger crowd of flag-waving Islamist Morsi backers, who want the vote to go ahead, assembled at two mosques and some remained on the streets through the night. There were also protests in Alexandria and other cities.
The latest unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition.
In response to the growing political crisis surrounding the referendum, Egypt's military chief will host national unity talks later on Wednesday.
"We will sit together as Egyptians," Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also the head of the armed forces, said.
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled him to the presidency in a June election, were expected to attend, along with the main opposition coalition.
The opposition stayed away from an earlier reconciliation meeting called by Morsi last weekend.
The army dominated Egypt throughout the post-colonial era, providing every president until Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year and oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood.
After his election, Morsi shunted aside generals who had held interim power after Mubarak and appointed a new high command. But the army nonetheless portrays itself as a guarantor of national security.
"Talks without the cancellation of the referendum - and a change to the constitution to make it a constitution for all Egyptians and not the Brotherhood - will lead to nothing and will be no more than a media show," said Ahmed Hamdy, a 35-year-old office worker.
But the fact that the army was calling such talks "is an indication to all parties that the crisis is coming to a head and that they need to end it quickly", he said.
Finance Minister Mumtaz al-Said disclosed on Tuesday that a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, a cornerstone of Egypt's economic recovery hopes, would be delayed until next month because of the crisis.
Any further delay beyond the first quarter of next year would damage recovery hopes, HSBC warned in a research note."Egypt's room for maneuver, however, is now extremely limited and the consequences of more protracted delay will be severe," the bank said.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net