Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum


Ref photo 2

( photo: Ahram online)

Following weeks of violence, casualties, allegations, and counter-allegations, Egyptians voted in the first leg of a referendum on an Islamist-backed draft constitution.  Here are my thoughts on yesterday’s events:

This is not just about a draft constitution; in a way it is a mandate about President Morsi and his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their respective popularity or lack of it on Egyptian streets. If the final result of the first leg of the referendum is that only 56.5% have voted yes, despite Islamists previous predictions of at least 70%  of Egyptians support them, then the Brotherhood, according to its own statistics, cannot claim to be the majority ( at least in 10 major governorates), and should stop labelling the opposition as “undemocratic minority” that “deterring” democracy. Not to mention the fact that the Salafis backed them by mostly voting yes, a voting alliance that will turn into a competition in the next parliamentary election.

According to most updated figures,  it seems that three big governorates  (Cairo, Alexandria, and Gharbia) were deeply divided between the Islamists, who support the new draft constitution, and non-Islamists, who reject it.  All media outlets, including the Brotherhood Web site, confirmed that Cairo clearly voted NO to the constitution, which, in my opinion, is a huge blow to President Morsi. The president, who recently changed his home address from Sharqyia to Heliopolis in Cairo, has to live in a constituency that rejects his vision for the country. Graffiti over the presidential palace walls tells  the story more bluntly than any in-depth analysis.

The images of long queues in front of polling stations did not in fact reflect the turnout, but point rather to the shortage and likely inefficiency of the judges in running the polling stations. Some voters went even further, accusing the election committee of deliberately delaying voting in disputed areas in the hope of putting people off and persuading them to leave without casting their votes.

The results from the South of Egypt (Aswan, Assut, and Sohag) are very alarming as they highlight Egypt’s  sectarian divide. It seems that many Muslims voted yes, not to support the constitution, but to oppose the Christian vote ( mostly voted no). If Egypt is still in a two-year democracy, many are not willing to let it progress further and want it rather to be plunged into a tribal, sectarian divide. What is even more alarming is how the Brotherhood’s own media indirectly incited feelings against the Copts and supplied inaccurate information.

Although stage two would be in many rural regions of Egypt, I do not think it is a done deal for the yes camp as many predict. Despite a healthy turnout, it seems that 68% of eligible voters have decided to boycott the whole process. The opposition has a week to focus and spread awareness among the boycotters. If some refuse to cast their votes out of disaffection (towards both Morsi and the opposition) or simply because they think their vote would not matter, the opposition should work to change this mindset. Fact: Islamists have already reached their maximum support, but the opposition has not reached its full potential.

Despite the Brotherhood’s claims of a perfect referendum process, there have been countless reports of irregularities throughout the country, including 26 polling stations in 4 governorates that lacked judicial supervision.  The hasty rush to proceed with the  referendum despite many judges boycotting it, has cast a huge shadow on the whole process. More importantly, it will make it more difficult for the president and the referendum committee to refute the claims of fraud. Already Monitoring and human rights groups demand first round referendum re-run because of rampant irregularities. I doubt the government and election committee will agree, but these statements would put the second stage of the referendum under more scrutiny.

Last night’s attack on Wafd Party headquarter and previous attacks on many Muslim Brotherhood offices in addition to Friday violence in Alexandria should all be viewed as part of the slow disintegration of law and order in Egypt. Rather than working on restoring law and order, the Brotherhood has been busy pointing fingers and blaming a “third party.”  The road toward a failed state starts with citizens losing respect for government institutions.

Regardless of the final outcome of the referendum, this is not the result President Morsi and the Brotherhood should celebrate. This referendum has done the opposition a great service by highlighting its strongholds around the country, and its potential in the next parliamentary election. On the other hand, it has exposed the myth of the Brotherhood’s high popularity, particularly in urban areas, and its dependency on Salafi support in rural areas. A sad state of affairs for Egypt as a country, but it could be the beginning of a much-needed political awakening for many ordinary Egyptians. Morsi should wake up from his delusions and start to seek much-needed consensus to prevent Egypt from spiraling down the path of a failed state.

About nervana111

Blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues
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2 Responses to Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum

  1. Daniel says:

    Sensible and informed, from my own reading of Egyptian media. It’s to be hoped that the author’s wish for tolerance and democracy will prove the sentiment of most of her countrypeople.

  2. Thanks for this good summary Nervana
    I don’t know whether I share your optimism though. Whilst the referendum results might lead to a political wakening, I think the Ikhwan are unlikely to moderate their increasingly sectarian stance.
    Their voting base may not be as strong as they might have hoped. With the multitude of diverse democratic tendencies since Jan 25, their popular base is probably no stronger than it was under Mubarak when they were the only mass opposition movement.
    Communalist sectarian organisations respond two ways to lack of popular support.
    True, the Brotherhood could ease off with their sectarian agenda but that would demoralise their supporters who have never particularly had much belief in ‘Western’ democracy, nor much desire to compromise with its methods.
    On the other hand, the lack of the Brotherhood’s popular support could also encourage them to stoke up sectarianism using their governmental power, their rigged constitution and their quasi-fascist militia to provoke and demonise the Copts – we are already seeing that happen. Morsi is seen to have aligned himself with the more sectarian elements over the last few weeks despite predictions otherwise a few months ago.
    Morsi could use the continuing economic crisis to scapegoat trade unions and democratic social forces. Inevitably as economic crises continue alongside political uncertainty – right–wing arguments to restore authority and order gain support from the undecided.
    To continue to enjoy support from the US govt Morsi will have to be a little less strident on some foreign policy issues. But if he can’t propagate their Islamist agenda internationally, as stridently as they might wish, that might even be a stronger reason for him to pursue their Islamist agenda at home and keep his supporters happy.
    So this is all worrying. Unless genuine popular democratic force can be built very quickly and can be seen to be strong enough 1) to defend themselves from authoritarian and sectarian threats, 2) to have the ability to create a govt that will create jobs and promote social justice. If this doesn’t happen, then there is going to be continuing and further attacks on democratic liberties.

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