CAIRO - Egyptians have narrowly voted in favor of the country's new constitution after the first round of a two-stage referendum, semi-official results have showed.
"The referendum was 56.5 percent for the 'yes' vote," a senior official in the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party operations room set up to monitor voting told Reuters.The vote passed off peacefully with long queues forming in Cairo and other cities and towns where this round of voting was held.
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The counting started immediately after polling stations closed at 11 p.m. after a four-hour extension.
The Brotherhood official, who asked not to be identified, said the tally was based on counts from more than 99 percent of polling stations in this round.
Very close results were confirmed by one opposition official who said the vote appeared to have gone in favor of Islamists who backed the constitution.
His announcement followed claims by opposition late Saturday that their exit polls indicated the "no" camp would win.
Another opposition official had suggested as counting proceeded through the night that the vote would be "very close".
The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under President Hosni Mubarak.
In order to pass, the constitution must be approved by more than 50 percent of voters who cast ballots.
A little more than half of Egypt's electorate of 51 million were eligible to vote in the first round.
If these results were confirmed for this round and repeated in the second stage on Saturday, December 22, they may give Islamist President Mohamed Mursi limited cause for celebration as it shows the wide rift in Egypt at a time when he needs to build consensus on tough measures to heal a fragile economy.
Even a narrow loss could hearten leftists, socialists, Christians and more liberal-minded Muslims who make up the disparate opposition camp, which has been beaten in two elections since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown last year.
The declared results are based on unofficial tallies. Official results are not expected till after the next round.
Rights groups reported some abuses, such as polling stations opening late and officials telling people to vote "yes".
But Gamal Eid, head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, which is monitoring the vote, said nothing reported so far was serious enough to invalidate the referendum.
"Until now, there is no talk of vote rigging," said Eid.
Islamists have been counting on their disciplined ranks of supporters and the many Egyptians desperate for an end to turmoil that has hammered the economy and sent Egypt's pound to eight-year lows against the dollar.
"I said 'yes' because I want the destruction the country is living through to be over and the crisis to pass," Howaida Abdel Azeem, a post office employee, said.
If the constitution is approved, a parliamentary election will follow early next year.
Opponents say the National Salvation Front could help unite the opposition for that poll after their divided ranks have split the vote in previous elections.
If the constitution is voted down, a new assembly will have to be formed to draft a revised version, a process that could take up to nine months.The army has deployed about 120,000 troops and 6,000 tanks and armored vehicles to protect polling stations and other government buildings.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net