Egyptians were voting on a new constitution Tuesday amid high security in a referendum likely to launch a presidential bid by the army chief who overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The military-installed government implored voters to turn out en masse to ratify the constitution, with the country’s lingering polarisation underscored by the explosion of a small bomb in Cairo that caused no injuries.
An Islamist coalition led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has called for a boycott and “civilised peaceful protests” during the two days of polling, and the interior ministry has pledged to confront attempts to disrupt voting.
Defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who overthrew Morsi in July, visited a polling station at a north Cairo school after voting began to survey the security preparations.
“Work hard. We need the referendum to be completely secured,” he told soldiers guarding the school.
Shortly before polling stations opened, a small, improvised bomb exploded outside a Cairo court, damaging the facade but causing no injuries, police said.
It again highlighted the government’s precarious grip on the most populous Arab country, still reeling from the ouster of Morsi and a bloody crackdown on his Islamist supporters.
The government hopes a large turnout in favour of the constitution will bolster its disputed authority, while Sisi will monitor it for an “indicator” of his popularity, an official close to the general said.
Interim president Adly Mansour entreated voters to cast their ballots.
“The people must prove to dark terrorism that they fear nothing,” he said after casting his ballot.
“The voting is not only for the constitution, but also for the road map, so the country can have an elected president and a parliament.”
The referendum will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.
The police and army have deployed hundreds of thousands of personnel to guard polling stations amid fears that a spate of militant attacks and protests would keep voters at home.
At one polling station for women at a school, dozens lined up to cast their ballots, some waving Egyptian flags and chanting pro-military slogans.
“We must be with our police and army so that no one can terrorise us. Even if a bomb exploded in my polling station, I will vote,” said Salwa Abdel Fattah, a 50-year-old gynaecologist.
While it is uncertain how many Egyptians will vote amid concern over violence, the constitution appears certain to pass.