Egyptians cast first free votes for decades

Across Egypt millions of people were voting for the first time in a referendum that will shape the course of the Egyptian revolution. The referendum, which asks Egyptians to approve a series of amendments to the country's 1971 constitution, is the first genuinely democratic poll in decades. Previous elections have been marred by rigging, intimidation and violence.

The army wants voters to approve the constitutional amendments before presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for the summer. There are nine proposed changes, which include modifying the hated emergency law and imposing limits on presidential terms. The military argues that the changes, which are supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, are the best way to ensure fair elections.

Yet aligned against them are figures from across the political spectrum. They include two of the main possible presidential candidates – Mohamed El-Baradei and Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League – along with the leading pro-democracy youth group, the January 25 coalition. They argue that an entirely new constitution is required to make a clean break with the Mubarak regime.

Results are expected today or tomorrow; polls indicate the outcome of the vote is too close to call – a novelty for a country used to electoral farces.