But few here believe that the vote will do anything to heal the political divisions that have exploded into deadly street clashes in recent days. On Friday, protesters armed with swords and stones battled in Alexandria, and at least 19 people were injured. Rival demonstrations in Cairo were tense but relatively peaceful.
The prospect of a “yes” vote on the charter has particularly enraged the young, secular Egyptians who were at the heart of the revolution early last year that drove out President Hosni Mubarak. Since Mubarak fell, they have been consistently outmaneuvered by the Islamists, who belatedly joined them in the streets during the revolution.
Islamists have triumphed in parliamentary and presidential votes, and a third win is likely to further sour secular revolutionaries on the democratic process they fought and died for just less than two years ago. At an opposition protest Friday, many were calling the vote illegitimate and promising to continue their campaign in the streets, regardless of what happens with the referendum.
“They are very active and very angry and very ready to use violence,” said Hassan Abu Taleb, an analyst at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
He noted that Islamists, too, are angry and feel that the country’s democratically elected leader is being unfairly maligned by demonstrators who have set up camp outside the presidential palace. There were reports Friday of preachers condemning as infidels those who vote against the charter.
“Saturday will be very, very risky for all Egyptians,” the analyst said.
Vaguely worded charter
After weeks of agonizing over whether to boycott the vote, opposition leaders opted Wednesday to urge their backers to participate, leaving them with just two full days to organize. They have done little since then to tamp down expectations of violence if the balloting does not go their way.
Prominent opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, on Thursday called on Morsi to postpone the vote and start the constitution-writing process from scratch to “avert the specter of civil war.”
The draft constitution is the product of a rushed and contentious process from which non-
Islamists withdrew in protest. The document is a hodgepodge of provisions, and it bears many similarities to the 1971 constitution that was in force throughout Mubarak’s three-decade rule.