Egyptian citizens finished up five days of voting for a constitutional referendum in consulates across the U.S. on Sunday (New York City, Washington, D.C., Houston, Chicago and San Francisco). The full vote takes place in Egypt today and tomorrow.
On Sunday voters steadily streamed into the New York consulate on 59th Street and Second Avenue, some draped in flags, young, elderly (including a determined wheelchair bound voter coming in on a bus from St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in New Jersey).
Ahmed Mohamed Sharaf, spokesman for the Egypt's United Nations mission, estimated there had been about 2,500 voters at the New York consulate. That was high compared to the last constitutional vote, said Ahmed Farouq, Consul General of Egypt in New York. The Egyptian people "are very determined to move forward in the next phase," he said.
The vote drew protesters who support ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and consider the vote is illegitimate. A spokesman for the protesters acknowledged that some in the crowd of about 100 people were officially affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He identified one, Mohamed Mahmoud, who is an executive member of the New York chapter of Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (EADHR). The EADHR has organized numerous pro-Morsi rallies throughout the country.
Many other protesters, the spokesman said, simply opposed Morsi's removal from office in July. "We are all here are looking for our democracy" he said. "We need to get our vote back."
Islamists and others who want Morsi returned to power plan to sit out this week's constitutional vote. But Muslims also voted for the constitution. A Muslim woman from Long Island said any perception that Muslims are against the new constitution is "definitely inaccurate." It offers rights that Egyptians have never had, she said, calling a 'yes' vote "another step up for Egypt," and a "vote for a new Egypt."
John Narov, a Coptic Christian, expressed hope the new constitution would lead to a more united Egypt, rather than one divided by religion. Copts and their churches have been scapegoated and attacked by Brotherhood members and other Islamists angered by Morsi's ouster.
"We try to think as not just the Coptic community," he said. "Our pope in Egypt always tries to have us as one, as Egyptian, not Coptic and Muslim. And we always try to stick to that unity, where the Brotherhood was trying to divide that."