New chapter ... a supporter of Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood points to a copy of the Koran during a demonstration in Nasr City, Cairo. Photo: AFP
AS VOTING began in Egypt's controversial constitutional referendum, citizens were recovering from another bloody night of protests over the poll after violent clashes broke out in the seaside city of Alexandria and mass demonstrations again brought parts of Cairo to a standstill.
In the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the vote, many Egyptians are still weighing whether to vote ''Yes'' or ''No'' on the constitution, which has been harshly criticised for its heavy focus on Islam and its lack of human rights protections.
It stands at a hefty 236 articles, and people say they have not had time to study the document in detail and wonder why the President, Mohammed Mursi, is rushing through a vote when the country is so polarised about it.
''Why now?'' asked Yousef, a tour operator and father whose business has been all but crippled because of the instability since Hosni Mubarak's downfall. ''Why can't we have time to study the document and make a proper decision rather than have it forced on us like this? I will vote 'No' - the [Muslim] Brotherhood are pulling the strings here and I do not trust them.''
Sparking the worst political crisis Egypt has faced since he came to power in June, Dr Mursi announced on November 22 that he was assuming sweeping extra-judicial powers stripping courts of the authority to annul the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly that drafted the constitution, as some expected it to do earlier this month.
He soon rescinded most of the powers in that decree but it was too late to quell the protests that have crowded the streets nearly every day.
And after a week of extraordinary political about turns - including the issue of a presidential decree to raise taxes on fuel, cigarettes, beer and building items, only to rescind it less than 24 hours later - this is now a vote not just on the constitution but on the future of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Dr Mursi himself.
Egypt is in financial crisis after decades of the dictatorship of Mubarak, who was forced from power in a people's revolution in February 2011, and the prolonged period of instability that followed.