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In Giza’s upscale Mohandiseen neighborhood, a group of 12 women speaking to each other in a mix of French, Arabic and English said they all intended to vote "no."
"My friends are Muslim and are voting ‘no.’ It’s not about Christian versus Muslim, but it is Muslim Brotherhood versus everyone else," said one of them, Shahira Sadeq, a Christian physician.
Kamla el-Tantawi, 65, voted with her daughter and grand-daughter. "I voted ‘no’ against what I’m seeing," she said, gesturing to a woman standing close by wearing the full-face veil known as niqab, a hallmark of ultraconservative Muslim women.
"I lose sleep thinking about my grandchildren and their future. They never saw the beautiful Egypt we did," she said, harkening back to a time decades ago when few women even wore headscarves covering their hair, much less the black niqab that blankets the entire body and leaves only the eyes visible.
In the neighboring, poorer district of Imbaba, Zeinab Khalil — a mother of three who wears the niqab — was backing the charter.
"Morsi, God willing, will be better than those who came before him," she said. "A ‘yes’ vote moves the country forward. We want things to calm down, more jobs and better education."
The voices reflected the multiple concerns that have been shaking Egypt for weeks. For some, the dispute has been about Shariah and greater religion in public life — whether to bring it about or block it. In many areas, clerics have been preaching in favor of the charter in their sermon.
But the dispute has also been about political power.
An opposition made up of liberals, leftists, secular Egyptians and a swath of the public angered over Morsi’s 5-month-old rule fear that Islamists are creating a new Mubarak-style autocracy.
Morsi’s allies say the opposition is trying to use the streets to overturn their victories at the ballot box over the past two years. They also accuse the opposition of carrying out a conspiracy by former members of Mubarak’s regime to regain power.
Many voters were under no illusions the turmoil would end.
"I don’t trust the Brotherhood anymore and I don’t trust the opposition either. We are forgotten, the most miserable and the first to suffer," said Azouz Ayesh, sitting with his neighbors as their cattle grazed in a nearby field in the Fayoum countryside.
He said a yes would bring stability and a no would mean no stability. But, he added, "I will vote against this constitution."
In Ikhsas village, Marianna Abdel-Messieh, a Christian, was the only woman not wearing a head scarf in the women’s line outside a polling center. She was voting "no," but expected that whatever the result, Egypt would see more rule by Shariah.
"So, whether this constitution passes or not, there will be trouble," she said. "God have mercy on us."
Michael reported from Fayoum. Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Giza.
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