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Policemen stand guard near a poster outside the constitutional court put up by supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi as they stage a sit-in, in Cairo December 23, 2012. (Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS)
Policemen stand guard near a poster outside the constitutional court put up by supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi as they stage a sit-in, in Cairo December 23, 2012. (Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS)

Egyptians divided as Islamist-backed charter looks set to pass Add to ...

Egyptians woke this morning to a very different country.

To be sure, the dawn call to prayer came at 5:15 as expected and the sound of car horns filled the Cairo air by 8:00 as usual, but for the first time, the nation has voted to accept a constitution put forward by an elected President.

After the completion of two rounds of voting, a total of 64 per cent of those casting ballots voted to accept the constitution drafted by a predominantly Islamist assembly, an unofficial but usually reliable tally shows. (The two rounds had been made necessary because many judges had refused to supervise the referendum, making a single day of voting impossible.)

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The results, more definitive than many expected, leave liberal Muslims wringing their hands in concern, and Christians, such as those filing into St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in suburban Maadi this morning, praying a little more fervently.

“This is especially important now,” said a worried Jackline Nessim, mother of two young children, walking outside St. Mark's with her daughter Nataly, 5.

Those such as Ms. Nessim opposed this constitution largely because it left open the possibility of an increasingly Islamic state coming into force. While the principles of sharia, Islamic law, remain the main source of legislation, just as has been the case since the 1971 constitution came into force under President Anwar Sadat, this new democratically-approved charter does little to ensure the inviolability of the rights of non-Muslims and secularists.

The interpretation of certain articles according to traditional societal norms leaves many wondering if they will be forced to don the veil or not to hold hands in public.

It is now up to President Mohammed Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to reassure the 36 per cent of the nation who opposed this constitution he rushed through drafting and out to a vote.

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said in a statement on its Facebook page it hoped the adoption of the constitution will provide a “historic opportunity to reunite the national forces on the basis of mutual respect and genuine dialog aimed at the stability of the homeland.”

Indeed, many who voted in favour of the charter did so in the hope that it would end the chaos and untenable economic conditions that have beset the country since the downfall of Hosni Mubarak almost two years ago.

The driver I have engaged on the past several visits to Egypt, a man of about 40 years, chosen for his reliability and honesty, greeted the results with a sigh of relief. A week ago he told me he had voted in favour of the constitution, but asked me not to tell anyone.

“My wife told me to vote ‘no;’ my daughter told me to vote ‘no.’ But I voted ‘yes,’” he said. “I had to. There’s so little work. We must have stability.”

Over the past two weeks, I watched as he grew his days-old stubble into a beard and even changed the ring-tone on his cell phone to a Koranic verse. “It is the way of the future,” he explained.

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