The intimidation worked, very few Christians in the area voted in last week’s constitutional referendum.

ASSIUT, Egypt (AP) –  A campaign of intimidation by Islamists left most Christians in this southern Egyptian province too afraid to participate in last week’s referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution they deeply oppose, residents say. The disenfranchisement is hiking Christians’ worries over their future under empowered Muslim conservatives.

Around a week before the vote, some 50,000 Islamists marched through the provincial capital, Assiut, chanting that Egypt will be “Islamic, Islamic, despite the Christians.” At their head rode several bearded men on horseback with swords in scabbards on their hips, evoking images of early Muslims conquering Christian Egypt in the 7th Century.

They made sure to go through mainly Christian districts of the city, where residents, fearing attacks, shuttered down their stores and stayed in their homes, witnesses said.

The day of the voting itself on Saturday, Christian voting was minimal — as low as seven percent in some areas, according to church officials. Some of those who did try to head to polling stations in some villages were pelted by stones, forcing them to turn back without casting ballots, Christian activists and residents told The Associated Press this week.

The activists now see what happened in Assuit as a barometer for what Christians’ status will be under a constitution that enshrines a greater role for Shariah, or Islamic law, in government and daily life. Even under the secular regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s Christians complained of discrimination and government failure to protect them and their rights. They fear it will be worse with the Islamists who have dominated Egypt’s political landscape since Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011.

“When all issues become religious and all the talk is about championing Islam and its prophet, then, as a Christian, I am excluded from societal participation,” said Shady Magdy Tobia, a Christian activist in Assiut. “If this does not change, things will only get worse for Christians.”