CAIRO - Egyptians voted on Saturday, December 15, on a long-awaited constitution promoted by its Islamist backers as the way out of a prolonged political crisis that has extended over the past two years since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak's regime.
"I have read the constitution and I liked it," Adel Imam, a 53-year-old queuing to vote in a Cairo suburb, told Reuters.
"The president's authorities are less than before. He can't be a dictator."
From early hours on Saturday, Egyptians queued outside the polling stations to decide on the country's future.
Army soldiers joined police to secure the referendum process after deadly protests during the build up to the referendum date.
To provide security for the vote, the army has deployed about 120,000 troops and 6,000 tanks and armored vehicles to protect polling stations and other government buildings.
The constitution is meant to be the cornerstone of democracy after three decades of army-backed autocracy under President Hosni Mubarak.
Supporters say the passage of the constitution will bring stability to the country after months of turbulence since Mubarak's ouster last year.
"I voted 'yes' for stability," said shopkeeper Ahmed Abou Rabu, 39.
"I cannot say all the articles of the constitution are perfect but I am voting for a way forward.
I don't want Egyptians to go in circles, for ever lost in this transition.
This round of voting takes place in Cairo, Alexandria and eight other governorates. A week later, the rest of the country will vote.
Egyptians abroad already started Wednesday to cast ballot at embassies on the new document.
While supporters cited stability, opponents say the constitution, which was fast-tracked by an Islamists-dominated panel, does not properly represent the aspirations of the whole nation.
Christians, making up about 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people, were among those queuing at a polling station in Alexandria to oppose the basic law.
"I voted 'no' to the constitution out of patriotic duty," said Michael Nour, a 45-year-old Christian school teacher in Alexandria.
The constitution does not represent all Egyptians.
Opposition groups say the text ignores the rights of women and workers, restricts freedom of expression and allows for the military trial of civilians.
The opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) coalition had vehemently opposed the referendum but this week said its supporters should go to the ballot boxes to vote "No".
"History will remember that this regime forced a referendum on the people of Egypt in these harsh circumstances, Ahmed Said, leader of the Free Egyptians Party, a part of the NSF, told BBC.
"They can't find judges to monitor and [there is] blood on the streets."
But supporters of the draft constitution accused the opposition of sowing "lies and discord" about the referendum.
"This is political blackmail that is not based on any evidence or reality, Amr Darrag, of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, said.