Problems on hold
This week Egyptians head to the polls to cast their ballots in the referendum on the Constitution amid intense campaigns by the media and political movements to rally for a ‘Yes’ vote. The charter, once passed, can carry Egypt to a new era of freedom, equality, democracy and modernity.
An overpowering sense of relief and confidence prevails among the majority of Egyptians regarding this Constitution. We look forward to an unprecedented turnout—some polls place it at an anticipated near 80 per cent—the majority of which would endorse the Constitution. Egypt would have then taken a substantial step on the path of reform and the Roadmap to the future that was born of the 30 June Revolution in 2013 which overthrew the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood regime.
There are high hopes that the referendum will be fair and transparent, thanks to competent management, judicial supervision, and monitoring by Egyptian and international civil society organisations. The media will be following up closely on the event and will transmit every minute detail to Egyptian and world viewers. The major challenge, however, lies in securing a safe voting process—a task shouldered by the police and armed forces. It is no secret that most Egyptians endorse the Constitution, but a minority rejects it and contests its legitimacy. Since they realise that their minority vote cannot beat the majority, this minority has throughout the last month threatened to sabotage the referendum. They vowed to use terrorist tactics to hinder the voting process, to ban voters from accessing polling stations, to spread violence and chaos and engage the police in fighting that would hamper them from securing a safe ballot. These threats are positively credible; one need only look at the long list of terrorist practices waged by the Islamists against the Egyptian people during the last six months to imagine what evil they are capable of.
In response to these blatant threats, the security authorities and armed forces have repeatedly issued confirmation that all possible measures are being taken to ensure the safety and security of the polling stations, and that attempts by terrorist groups to impede the voting will be firmly confronted. While these declarations should work to convey confidence and reassurance to Egyptians, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that terrorism and violence on the street have been steadily on the rise for the past few months. An undeniable gap exists between official reassuring declarations and official ability to firmly deal with illegal demonstration, chaos, sabotage and terrorism.
The horrendous incidents of violence which take place daily at the site of Egypt’s universities represent a flagrant challenge to law enforcement. Islamist university students band with hired intruders and attempt to force universities to close down through acts of arson, roadblocks and vicious assault of faculty members and other students who wish to go on with normal campus activity. So far, the security forces have dealt with this gruesome terrorism in a manner which appears to be quivering, diffident, and lacking in rigour and proactive control. Egyptians are wrathful at the Muslim Brotherhood terrorism inside Egyptian universities, but even more so at what they see as security reluctance to deal firmly and decisively with the illegal activity. Curiously, the police do not cordon off these terrorist, armed groups or arrest them, but merely disperse them using water hoses and tear gas. Hundreds of the terrorists then flee to the side streets and only a small number is caught. At the end of the day, these terrorist groups boast of having achieved their goal in confounding Egyptians and exhausting the security forces while surviving to repeat the same gruesome scenario the following day.
And it doesn’t stop at that. An identical scenario takes place every Friday after noon prayers in specific mosques in Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian towns. And the same quivering performance of security forces is repeated. The result is a detrimental message that the authorities are incapable of upholding State prestige or enforcing the law.
Despite my unabashed enthusiasm for the referendum, endorsement of the Constitution, and rallying for a ‘Yes’ vote, I cannot ignore that the success of the balloting hinges on the ability of the security authorities to ensure the safety and security of the voters and voting. I make no attempt to beautify or falsify the current situation which leaves countless questions begging answers on the capacity of these apparatuses to resolutely carry out their role. I sincerely hope we get to see a performance different than the pathetic act we today witness.
12 January 2014