Egyptians are voting in a referendum that could lead to direct presidential elections with more than one candidate. Under the current system, they can only vote yes or no to a single candidate chosen by parliament. President Hosni Mubarak says the plan is an important step towards democracy.
However, critics argue that with Mubarak’s National Democratic Party holding 90 per cent of seats in parliament, any non-governmental candidate would not stand a chance of winning the backing needed to stand as president.
Rival supporters gathered in central Cairo on Wednesday morning amid tight security. Authorities had warned protests would not be tolerated. Around 10 members of the opposition Kefaya movement were arrested. The opposition has called on the population to boycott the poll, but it remains unclear whether that will make a difference as Egyptians traditionally do not bother to vote.
Washington has welcomed the referendum as a sign of positive reform. Mubarak, who has been in power for 24 years, has not yet announced whether he will stand for a fifth consecutive term.