Egypt's referendum, running updates (12/16, 3:00 am)

December 16

3:00 am

The Muslim Brotherhood says that the "yes" vote continues to lead, with 86 percent of polling stations reporting. Roughly 3.9 million voters, or 59 percent, have approved the constitution, while 2.7 million, or 41 percent, have rejected it, according to the Brotherhood's count. Indeed, as explained below, Egypt's opposition has already said that it expects to lose the first round, a result it blames on voter suppression and fraud.

Setting aside those allegations for a moment, we might be able to better understand the constitution's path to victory by looking at one governorate: Gharbeya. A roughly two- to three-hour drive north of Cairo, Gharbeya is home to Mahalla, an anti-authoritarian industrial city made famous by its active labor movement, and Tanta, which hosts a large Christian population and the biggest annual Sufi moulid in the country. Gharbeya rejected Morsi twice over in the presidential election and gave Shafik his second-largest margin of victory in round two in June. Opposition organizers pegged the Delta governorate as anti-Morsi country. If they could turn out a big "no" vote there, they stood a chance of defeating the referendum.

Tonight, that's not happening. The "no" vote is winning in Gharbeya, but it's not nearly big enough. In fact, according to independent reporting by El Watan, the "yes" constituency is more than double the size of Morsi's first-round presidential share, while the "no" vote is actually smaller, by about 40 percent, than the combined votes for Morsi's three most prominent first-round competitors, all of whom have vocally opposed the constitution. (Leaving out Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.) It bears recollecting that in 2011, Gharbeya delivered 13 of its 20 seats in parliament to the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi allies. If one believes the numbers - which the opposition clearly does not - Islamists rallied their base and the swing vote backed the constitution.   With that kind of success in Gharbeya, the opposition has little chance in the broader picture.

12:30am

Results have begun coming in from the first day of voting, and they indicate a victory for the referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood has already claimed that the "yes" vote will prevail, and independent media are currently showing the referendum prevailing. However, a margin that began the night at around 75%-25% has, at least for now, rapidly narrowed.

El Watan, an independent newspaper, is running a live map of results. Ahram Online and the Egypt Independent have live blogs. In a press conference tonight, the National Salvation Front, an umbrella opposition group, alleged widescale fraud and voter suppression but did not pull out from the contest. Its leaders acknowledged that they planned to lose the first round, according to official results, but said their own exit polls and those of human rights organizations showed that roughly 65 percent of those surveyed voted "no."

December 15

12:15 pm

This referendum will represent the third time we have a decently deep and publicly available numerical sampling of the national political mood. The first came last fall and winter, when Egyptians voted for the People's Assembly, then the presidential election in May and June, and now the constitutional vote. So, numerically speaking, here are some areas to watch in the first round:

North Sinai and Assiut -  Of the 10 first-round governorates, one might predict these two to break hardest in support of the constitution. That's because in the crowded first round of the presidential election, when President Morsi's support was skimmed to its core, he received his fourth and fifth largest shares in these two governorates, with roughly 37 percent (or 32,400 votes) from North Sinai and 33 percent (or 195,000 votes) from Assiut. If the raw "yes" vote today in these governorates is lower than Morsi's round-one support, it may be a bad sign for the referendum.

Gharbeya, Cairo, and Daqaleya - Shafik defeated Morsi handily in these governorates in round two of the presidential election, and Gharbeya and Daqaleya formed part of his surprisingly strong showing in the Delta region. Opponents of the constitution will need to hope for high organic turnout, since those voting "yes" are supported by the better-organized Brotherhood and Salafi movements, which field practiced get-out-the-vote machines. This is a national vote, so big overall turnout numbers in potential non-Islamist strongholds like Gharbeya, Cairo and Daqaleya would be a good sign for the opposition - that means reaching roughly 1.5 to 2 million votes in the Delta and nearly 3.5 million in Cairo.

Alexandria - The dark-horse governorate in the first round. It is the home of Egypt's Salafi movement but went strongly for charismatic Nasserist and Morsi opponent Hamdeen Sabahi in the first round of the presidential election. Sabahi is firmly anti-constitution, and last night, street fighting erupted after a Salafi preacher was rumored to have used a sermon to call for a "yes" vote. Alexandria could serve as the best bellwether governorate in round one.

11:40 am

Voting is underway in 10 of Egypt's 27 governorates, including the urban centers of Cairo and Alexandria. I'm stuck inside writing a separate piece, but Twitter is showing long lines and a toss-up between "yes" and "no" voters. There have been no incidents of real violence, though a man in Mahalla, an industrial city north of Cairo, reportedly fired a gun into the air outside a polling station before being arrested.

The remaining 17 governorates will vote on December 22. Some skeptics have speculated that President Mohamed Morsi's administration split the vote to force opposition-leaning, urbanized governorates to vote first, with less time to organize. While it's true that round two is stacked with governorates that voted strongly for Morsi in the presidential election, I still see a lot of opposition left for December 22.

Round One: Cairo, Alexandria, Daqaleya, Gharbeya, Sharqeya, Assiut, Sohaig, Aswan, North Sinai, South Sinai. 

Round Two: Giza, Port Said, Suez, Matrouh, Luxor, Qalyubeya, Ismailia, Kafr el-Sheikh, New Valley, Red Sea, Qena, Bani Suef, Minya, Monofeya, Beheira, Dumietta, Fayoum.