The three years which passed since the revolution on 25 January 2011 have seen the lives of Egyptians undergo huge upheaval. Yet people have become interested in speaking out and have taken active part in politics. And now is the time to vote for that all-important document which should govern the destiny of Egypt: the Constitution.
The Egyptian constitutional referendum will be held next Tuesday and Wednesday, 14 – 15 January—Egyptians outside Egypt already cast their vote last Wednesday 8 January—among high hopes for a better economic and political future and the restoration of security and stability. Despite threats by Islamist groups, a majority of Egyptians affirm that they will participate in the referendum and will prove that the Egyptian State is stronger than any group.
Anyone who travels through Egypt, whether physically along the streets of towns and villages, or virtually on social networking sites, cannot fail to observe that Egyptians are polarised between Islamist and secular points of view. The former want a State that runs on the principles of political Islam and thus reject the Draft Constitution; they have even vowed to use terrorist tactics to attempt to secure a ‘No’ vote. The latter endorse a civic, democratic State of internationally acknowledged human rights, and are intent on voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum. Even a casual glance at the Egyptian scene reveals beyond all doubt that the Islamists are a minority, albeit a loud-voiced, violent, terrorist one.
Between these two camps there exists a group of activists who claim to be a political elite. They insist that the Draft Constitution is riddled with flaws and discrepancies. These activists are split between voting ‘Yes’ for the Draft Constitution despite its imperfections, and voting ‘No’. It is clear through online reader comments and opinion polls by the most widely visited news sites in Egypt, such as www.youm7.com or the Cairo daily al-Masry al-Youm, that there has never been a wider rift between the activists and the mainstream Egyptian street. The Egyptian man-in-the-street who exercises instinctive conventional wisdom can see that the Draft Constitution is in reality consensual and backs a civic, human rights oriented, democratic State, despite a few details over which sectors with divergent interests or tendencies might disagree. As such, the majority— some 78 per cent, according to polls by Youm7, the Centre for Information and Supporting Decision Taking, and the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera)—say they intend to cast their votes, and 78.6 per cent of them say they would vote ‘Yes’.
Comfortable with ‘Yes’
Medhat Sidhom, a 32-year-old accountant, insists that every Egyptian must participate in the vote on the Constitution. He calls it a national duty that will help Egypt emerge out of the dark tunnel of the last two years. “The new constitution is good,” Mr Sidhom (no relation to Watani’s Youssef Sidhom) says: “Even if it is not the best, it is still much better than the one pushed through by the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2012.”
Sami Doss, head of the Banque Misr branch of Dar al-Qadaa’ in Downtown Cairo, agrees. “We are only a few steps to stability,” he says, “so I will definitely take part in the referendum and vote for the Constitution,” adding that every individual who was among the 33 million Egyptians who took to the streets on 30 June 2013 to overthrow the Muslim Brothers (MB) must participate in the referendum and vote for a peaceful end to the transitional phase.
“For the first time I feel that an important event is taking place that is far removed from the violence and destruction since 25 January 2011,” says Josephine Samir, 24, a university graduate of the. “It is also the first time I have realised the importance of the Constitution and the necessity of my participation. Experts say the new Constitution is not tailored for a specific person, party or group like it was with Sadat and Mursi, and this is what will make me feel comfortable when I say ‘Yes’ to the new Constitution.”
Constitution for ‘infidels’
TV director Baher Sabri, 36, says: “I will certainly participate in the referendum, and I will vote for it. We will show the MB that we hate them forever and will never give them any other chance to interfere in our lives.”
Their optimism is not shared by all. Iman Sayed, a 35-year-old homemaker, has not read the Constitution, and even if she had she would not vote in the referendum because since the days of Mubarak and Mursi there had been no change or progress. “So why should I stand in a queue which will bring me no benefit?” she asks.
A 40-year-old hairdresser, Aida Ghanem, says she will vote. She admires and respects General Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi because she feels that he truly cares about Egypt. She says: “Anything he agrees on I will do. We have had enough difficult days and we need security and stability.”
However, Fathi Muhammad, 43, a construction labourer, says: “I will vote and I will say ‘No’ because the new Constitution will allow people to leave Allah and become infidels. President Mursi should return and rule Egypt to achieve stability.”
Abiding by global rights
Ihab Moussa, head of the Support Tourism Coalition, says: “We will say ‘Yes’ to the Constitution because it abides by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties and agreements, and it acknowledges the 25 January 2011 Revolution as the precursor to that of 30 June 2013. It also compels the government to improve education, culture and art in order to increase awareness among citizens.”
Speaking on behalf of farmers, Muhammad Borghosh of the Green Egypt Party and a member of the Committee of the Fifty which wrote the Draft Constitution says he is mounting a campaign to support the Constitution through meetings with farmers near and wide; he started with Luxor in Upper Egypt. “The new Constitution grants farmers rights that no other constitution gave them,” he says.
Muhammad Abdel-Meguid Hindi, head of the Egyptian union of labourers and farmers, adds that his union supports the new Constitution and is rallying for a ‘Yes’ vote via its Facebook page. Mr Hindi is calling on labourers, farmers and fishermen to go out on 14 and 15 January to vote for the Constitution and protect Egypt from its enemies.
“The members of the Committee of the Fifty and the union will do their best to help the army and police protect voting stations and booths,” says Ahmed Khairy, another member of the committee and representative of the national union of labourers.
On the right track
Lawyer and member of the Supreme Council of Free Egyptians Party Mina Wadie says: “Egypt is calling, and we all have to respond. I will participate in the referendum and vote for the new Constitution. It is the first time since the 2011 Revolution I have felt we are on the right track. We were in a mess from 2011 to 30 June 2013. The new Constitution is the best in Egypt’s history, so it will be a perfect base for enhancing the Egyptian identity, citizenship, rule of law, and separation between authorities. All these things are sufficient factors to establish a civilised State with a better future.”
Someone with opposing views is Ibrahim al-Hamami, a member of the political bureau of the Islamist Strong Egypt Party. “The Committee of the Fifity which wrote the Draft Constitution was formed illegally, and has taken more than its legally stipulated time to complete its work. We want the committee cancelled and all its work abolished.”
Yet many among the Muslim Brotherhood dissidents and Muslim Brothers Against Violence group have welcomed the new Constitution. “The new Constitution is not only a collection of compatible articles but also a clear reply to all conspirators who aim to divide the Middle East,” Islam al-Katatni says. “It is a matter of life or death for the MB to defeat the new Constitution, because it is the only thing that will prevent them from coming to power again. So the coming period bears utmost significance and involves so many perils. I expect more violence, more adverse publicity on the part of the Islamist MB and more bombings as well. But all pointers indicate that, no matter what, the people will go out to vote for the Constitution.”
12 January 2014