Egypt Votes on New Constitution Amid Massive Security

It's seen as a key milestone after the military-led coup that ousted former president Mohamed Morsi last year

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Egyptians headed to the polls Tuesday morning to begin two days of voting on a draft constitution that would strengthen the country’s military-backed leadership.

Massive security deployments are in place to protect polling stations; the AP reports that 160,000 soldiers and more than 200,000 policemen are guarding voting locations across the country. In Cairo early Tuesday morning, a bomb went off outside of a courthouse before the polls opened, causing significant damage but no casualties.

Despite the threat of violence, Egyptians lined up hours before polling stations opened in Cairo at 9 a.m. local time. The vote is seen as a key referendum on a military-backed ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last July and could pave the way for a presidential run by military chief Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Morsi was part of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which was recently designated as a “terrorist” organization and has called for a boycott of the vote. Journalists covering the vote have reported that the military is flying helicopters low over Cairo, blasting nationalist songs and encouraging people to vote “yes” on the referendum. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report on Monday that at least seven people have been arrested, apparently for campaigning against the new charter.

The new constitution would ban political parties based on religion, give women equal rights and protect the status of minority Christians, but it would also give the military special powers, allowing it to select the country’s defense minister and bring civilians before military tribunals. The last constitutional referendum–drafted by Morsi’s Islamist allies–passed in December 2012 with 64 percent, but only 30 percent of the country turned out to vote.