Under the watchful eye of the oposition, voting for the referendum on the controversial draft constitution in Egypt began Saturday at 6:00 GMT (8:00 local).
Some 51.3 million Egyptians are expected to say yes or no to a draft constitution that has deeply divided the country.
Initially scheduled for one day, the vote will now take place over two days to a week apart, 15 and 22 December, the authorities hoping to compensate for the absence of many judges who have announced their boycott.
The judges decided to boycott the operation supervision of the referendum on the Constitution and organized a strike in all courts in the country to protest against the interference of Mohamed Morsi in the work of the judiciary.
On the eve of this meeting, the defenders of the Constitution and the opposition gathered in different cities of Egypt, who have experienced during the last days a wave violence that left nine people dead and hundreds injured.
For opponents of the referendum, there are still gaps in particular freedom of expression, the rights of children and women. In this sense, they emphasize that the controversial project does not limit the powers of the President of the Republic, which will lead to “a new dictatorship.”
At a press conference on national salvation Front (NSF), the main opposition coalition, the Liberal Hamzawi Amr said he was “confident that the Egyptian people will say no to the Constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, for his part, called the Head of State to cancel the referendum “before it is too late.”
The DSF has called on Egyptians to take part in the constitutional referendum provided by voting against this bill.
NTF determines the call to go to the polls with four conditions which, if they are not “met on Saturday,” the first day of the poll, would urge Egyptians to abstain.
The opposition also requires the presence of a judge before each ballot box, that safety is guaranteed inside and outside the polling stations, national and international supervision of elections, and especially since the vote is taking place on a single day.
The opposition, which denounces even “authoritarian drift” of the Constitutional Commission accused of being dominated by the Islamists, accusing the draft Constitution, among others, offer few guarantees for freedom of expression and religion.
In contrast, advocates argue that the text is essential to continue the transition to democracy. They ensure that the text will provide the country with a stable institutional framework, the previous fundamental law was suspended after two years of the fall of the regime of Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 under the pressure of a popular revolt.
The Muslim Brotherhood called to approve constitutional amendments, stressing that they will do everything in their power to ensure that the referendum is positive.
Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood stressed that maintaining the referendum on December 15 was essential to seal the transition to democracy that has begun with the fall of former President Mubarak.
“It is up to the people to decide on their future as they have the freedom to go to the polls , in a free and fair democratic election,” stressed the Prime Minister Hisham Qandil.
The spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ghozlan, asked on his Facebook page if the opposition is ready to accept the “foundations of democracy”, while stating that the withdrawal of the decree of November 22, by which Egyptian President has expanded his powers, will put an end to all controversy.
Supporters and opponents of Morsi clashed, sometimes violently, since the president has unilaterally expanded his powers by decree on November 22. The violence prompted the army to play mediation, which failed after the decision to postpone indefinitely the dialogue.
Ten governorates will vote on Saturday, including Cairo and Alexandria as well as the unstable region of Sinai. Seventeen other governorates, including the three major cities of Suez Canal (Ismailiya, Port Said, Suez) and the famous tourist city of Luxor wil all go to the polls on Saturday December 22.
Egyptians living abroad began voting on Wednesday for four days. Nearly 600,000 expatriates registered to vote did that in the 150 Egyptian diplomatic representations.
In all, nearly 250,000 members of the security forces (about 130,000 police and 120,000 soldiers) are responsible for ensuring safety and security.
Will Egypt pass this democratic test?