Poor turnout

24-01-2014 05:19 PM

Youssef Sidhom

The third week of January was an eventful one in Egypt, with two achievements elating Egyptians and making the headlines. In a climate of utter jubilation,

 Egyptians voted in a new Constitution with a sweeping 98.1 per cent majority that reflected not only their happiness with the new charter but also their confidence in the future. On a syndicate level, the general assembly of the Engineers Syndicate withdrew confidence from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) board which had for years held sway over the syndicate. The move revealed that engineers were one with all Egyptians in their resolve to overthrow the MB who had without fail cast to the wind the interests of Egypt and sought to serve other non-Egyptian ends. Where the Engineers Syndicate was concerned, the MB had usurped the raison d’être of syndicate work which is to enhance the profession and professionals, and set forth to Islamise the syndicate and waste its resources on ends far removed from the syndicate’s purpose.
So Egyptians cheered for the new Constitution and the rescue of yet another syndicate—the pharmacists and doctors had already rescued theirs—from the clutches of the MB. I remain worried, however, at the poor turnout that generated both accomplishments, and believe it should not be allowed to pass without comment. I will start by reviewing the case of the Engineers’ Syndicate.
The Engineers Syndicate boasts membership of some 500,000 engineers of various engineering fields in Egypt. After years of conflict between the MB and non-MB members, the non-MB Reform Stream in the syndicate rallied for a general assembly to withdraw confidence from the majority MB board. Some 14,000 engineers attended the general assembly and a no-confidence vote was passed by some 8,000 votes against 6,000. Do engineers, who are masters at analysing figures, realise the implication of this turnout? The 2.8 per cent turnout which produced a 57 per cent no-confidence vote achieved the aspired objective, but the meagre turnout poses serious questions on the ability to shield the syndicate against a MB comeback.  An interim board is now in charge of preparing for elections for a new board. I hope last week’s rejoicing in no way eclipses the gravity of the responsibility and the challenge that lies ahead. The masses of engineers ought to prepare for the new vote lest their syndicate is again hijacked by the Islamists, this time through the ballot box. The MB will not give in and will definitely work for a comeback. It is my belief that it would take no less than a 60 per cent turnout in the upcoming elections to safeguard last week’s achievement. 
Now back to the new Constitution which is by all means a historic achievement unprecedented in both its state-of-the-art content and the effort that went into securing a peaceful, free vote. The organisation and security provided for the balloting were remarkable, as was the eagerness of the various sectors of Egyptians to participate, revealing admirable determination and national unity. Yet it must be said that, even though the Constitution was voted in by a 98.1 per cent majority, the 38.6 per cent turnout was rather disappointing in terms of the challenges ahead of us. 
I have written repeatedly on the imperative need to create ‘electoral fitness’ among Egyptians. I insisted that the sense of relief at overthrowing the MB regime in the wake of the 30 June Revolution must not mislead Egyptians into imagining that this was the happy final ending to the MB chapter. True, the MB are morally finished once and for all in view of the deep rejection Egyptians now harbour towards them, but might very well make a political comeback if Egyptians do not steel themselves and rally all efforts against that. I already warned that any turnout less than 60 per cent in presidential or parliamentary elections could result in a vote that would bring the MB back. The ‘feast of the Constitution’ we are now celebrating so jubilantly may then turn into a veritable nightmare. 
The all-important duty which now awaits us all, but especially research centres and political and party circles, is to rigorously analyse the results of the recent vote.  Who went to the ballots and who didn’t? Why did some vote, and why didn’t others? Did some intentionally refrain from voting, and were others afraid to vote and why? We should work to reassure all those who didn’t vote and secure their votes. Without them we cannot guarantee who will next be president. Neither can we be sure who will sit in Parliament to translate this great Constitution into real life laws.
WATANI International
26 January 2014
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