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Security Crackdown as Egyptians Hold 'Fake' Constitution Vote

'The choice on the ballot paper is effectively between a box for yes, and a box for handcuffs'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

A soldier stands guard in front of a polling station as Egyptians wait to cast their vote for the constitutional referendum in Cairo. (Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)As Egyptians lined up outside polls Tuesday for a contentious and largely symbolic vote on a constitutional referendum, deadly clashes with police underscored the strong-arm tactics of the current regime which many say undermine any show of democracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood, whose members largely supported ousted President Mohamed Morsi, called to boycott the elections after being branded a "terrorist organization" and expelled from political circles in late December.

Brotherhood supporters staged protests in at least four cities Tuesday and, according to Egypt's Health Ministry, 11 protesters were killed and an additional 28 were wounded in clashes with security forces. The ministry says the deaths occurred in Cairo, the adjacent province of Giza and two provinces south of the capital, Bani Suef and Sohag, Al Jazeera reports.

Sixty-five additional protesters were arrested after allegedly attempting to obstruct voting.

For Egyptian voters the symbolism of the vote has largely out shown the contents of the referendum. As the Guardian's Patrick Kingsley reported from Cairo:

The referendum, which continues on Wednesday, ostensibly seeks national consent for a series of amendments to Egypt's constitution. But the state and its supporters have also positioned it as not just a poll on the text's contents, but as a ratification of Morsi's overthrow, and as the only means of re-establishing order in a country ravaged by three years of post-revolutionary chaos.

The draft constitution deletes much of the Islamic language written into law under Morsi's rule. However, opponents highlight certain clauses which they say allow for civilians to be tried in army courts, curb workers' rights and limit religious freedoms to members of the three Abrahamic religions.

Though political officials and supporters of the referendum touted the "historic turnout" of the vote, circulating images of long voting queues, observers note that the reports of violence highlight the divisive state of Egyptian politics.

As Kingsley notes, few individuals "have been either willing or given the space to express an alternative view – and most journalists could not find a single person planning to vote no."

Outside of the protests, evidence of opposition was scarce after 35 members of the "no" campaign group Strong Egypt—a moderate Islamist party opposed to the military crackdown that followed Morsi's ouster—were arrested on the campaign trail.

As Washington Post Cairo Bureau Chief, Abigail Hauslohner, tweeted Tuesday:

"It's a fake process," Mohamed el-Baqr, an official with Strong Egypt, told the Guardian. "The choice on the ballot paper is effectively between a box for yes, and a box for handcuffs."

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