UAE-based Egyptians vote on country's constitution

Tempers flare as people cast their votes at the Egyptian embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Egyptians flocked to the Embassy in Abu Dhabi to cast their vote for the new constitution. Delores Johnson / The National
Egyptians flocked to the Embassy in Abu Dhabi to cast their vote for the new constitution. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // As Abeer drove to the Egyptian Embassy, her father pleaded with her again to change her mind and vote for the new constitution.

But Abeer insisted she would not.

"My family are all with Morsi and the constitution, I am not," said the young woman in her 20s who, like other people interviewed for this story, asked that only her first name be used.

"We always argue on this. And now they have split us as either non-Muslims or Brotherhood," she said after casting her vote. "As if you are either with us or against us. They cannot tell us we are not Muslims."

Abeer was one of hundreds of people who voted at the Egyptian Embassy yesterday in the referendum on Egypt's new constitution.

Her brother, Mohamed, voted in favour of the constitution later in the day.

"He refused to ride in the car with me because of my vote," Abeer said.

Voting on the constitution ends on Saturday and more than 60,000 Egyptians in the UAE are registered to vote.

Emotions ran high as supporters and sceptics of the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, argued.

Close to midday, a group of people came out waving ballots revealing they had voted for the constitution.

"This is a very good constitution," said one, Mahmoud, in a raised voice. "[Opposition figure Mohamed] ElBaradei said he wanted a dialogue, but then he said he didn't. Protests should end by both parties."

Another man passing by stopped and took out his ballot to show he had voted against the constitution.

"What has your constitution said about education?" the man asked.

"It is free for all school years," Mahmoud replied.

"What about university? Can the Egyptian people afford to pay?" the man retorted.

The men quarrelled as they tried to get their points of view across.

"Where were the Islamists when the protests broke out last year?" the man asked. "And where was Baradei?"

Mahmoud insisted they were there.

A few minutes after the two departed, a TV crew interviewed a man who had just voted.

"Today is a black day for Egypt," he shouted as a crowd gathered. Once the interview was over, embassy staff told the TV crew to stop "aggravating voters".

"It is OK, I can say what I want, and whoever can say what they want, we are not in Tahrir Square to fight," the man said.

To avoid any trouble, most voters kept to themselves.

"People died in protests over this, and now there are sensitivities," said Ahmed, who voted for the constitution. "People do not want to mingle together in fear of problems; people do not want problems. During presidential elections people were much more patriotic and happy than now."

Those who voted for the constitution said they were generally happy with it after reading it closely. Some said it was important to vote for it and move on, while others said any problems could always be amended.

"The president came out and said anyone with comments can tell them," said Khalid. "Then he said he will talk to opposing groups. He has always been there and available. What is wrong with having Sharia in the constitution? It was there before."

Those against the constitution said it did not represent all segments of society, did not protect human rights and gave the president far too many powers.

Two female friends walking out of the embassy after voting together looked disapprovingly at the crowds outside.

"We are going back to the dark ages, 1,000 years," said Sally, who has lived in the Arabian Gulf for 18 years. "This constitution is completely against human rights and women and children. It has nothing on education or health care."

Some people said they would reject any constitution from the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The Islamists want to impose taxes on alcohol, is that Sharia-like?" said George, a Christian Egyptian.

Huda, who voted for Mr Morsi, said she would vote against the constitution, not because she was unhappy with it, but because of the recent clashes in Egypt.

"It is not worth people dying over," she said.

While Abeer went home to try to make peace with her family, she fears others will not.

"A civil war is breaking out," she said.

osalem@thenational.ae

Published: December 13, 2012 04:00 AM

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