27 March 2011
In the wake of the public endorsement of the constitutional amendments …
The results of the referendum on the Constitutional Amendments, which saw the highest voter turnout—some 40 per cent—in almost half-a-century in Egypt, were announced last Sunday and revealed an overwhelming approval of the proposed amendments. More than 14.1 million voters—77.2 per cent of those who voted—approved the amendments while some 4 million, 22.8 per cent, voted against them. Most votes rejecting the amendments came from Cairo and Alexandria, whereas support flowed in heavily from the provinces. According to Yehia al-Gamal, Deputy Prime Minister, a Constitutional Declaration encompassing the amendments as well as some other articles which will be needed to govern the next period, will soon be announced.
The Egyptian Alliance for Elections Monitoring (EAEM), which includes a number of NGOs and which was monitoring the late poll noted a number of violations that occurred in the balloting process.
In a number of poll stations in Cairo, Giza, 6th October, Alexandria, Kafr al-Sheikh, Fayoum, Port Said, Aswan and Assiut, EAEM reports that certain groups directed voters to vote “yes” to the amendments, or outright bribed them to do so.
The absence of judges to supervise poll stations was noted in several places in Giza, Nag Hammadi and the Delta. In one station in Giza the supervisor would not sign the balloting tickets, which were required to carry the official stamp or the supervisors signature in case the stamp was not available.
In Assiut, Mansoura, Giza, Qena, Qalyoub and Delta, a number of polling stations did not open their doors for balloting before noon, whereas the official hours for balloting started at 8.00am.
The phosphoric ink which ensures that voters vote only once was missing in several stations; in some others in Cairo, Giza, Helwan, Alexandria, Ismailiya, Assiut, Sharqiya, Daqahliya and Beni Sweif a brand of ink that could be easily removed from the balloters’ fingers was used.
The only way out
The question which begs an answer is: will the wide public endorsement of the constitutional amendments usher political Islam in to the Egyptian political scene? Such a probability cannot be discounted, especially that appearances suggest the Islamists are taking action to be serious players on the field. According to Anba Psanti, Bishop of Helwan, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib has taken a recent initiative to request audience with Pope Shenouda III.
“Yes, we can safely say that the political Islamic movements are gaining ground,” Abdel Rehim Ali, an expert on political Islam, told Watani, “and will continue to do so unless non-Islamist political streams such as the leftists, liberals, Copts and civic-minded youth, mobilise and join forces to compel the Military Council to enforce elections based on a slate system.” If this happens, Mr Ali pointed out, such a front, which can very likely garner 40 per cent of the votes, will be strong enough to stand up to the Islamist current, and the decision making process in this country will not be monopolised by Islamists. A true democratic model will have been born. But if these various political movements fail to form some coalition in the face of the Islamists, political Islam will undoubtedly gain dominion; Egypt’s new, much-aspired Constitution will end up an Islamic Constitution, the brainchild of the Islamist parliamentary majority. Any candidate for the presidency will have to cater to the parliamentary majority, in this case the Islamists.
In reply to a Watani question on the MB wish to meet the Pope, Mr Ali replied that MB leaders are currently attempting to rally for public support. Once the Islamists get to power, he said, the real suffering is set to begin; just look at post-Khomeini Iran.
The leftist political activist Abul-Ezz al-Hariri thinks that, even though the 41 per cent turnout is definitely high compared to turnouts in previous elections, it is too low for a referendum.
Mr Hariri told Watani that the wide public, a large sector of which possesses poor awareness and education, should have been educated about the vote prior to polling. Since this never took place, many voters opted for a “yes” vote without understanding its real repercussions.
“We all saw,” Mr Hariri said, “how the Islamists exploited religion by coercing Muslim voters to vote ‘yes’ as a religious duty. They claimed that Copts will be voting ‘no’ in order to turn Egypt into a secular state by annulling the second article of the Constitution, which stipulates Islam as the State religion and Islamic sharia (jurisdiction) as a major source of legislation.”
There is a tri-partite alliance between the Military Council, the MB and the National Democratic Party (NDP) to pass the amendments, Mr Hariri suggested. And this, he explained, means that the Islamists and Salafis will form the new Constitution, while many political forces, and most of all Copts, will be marginalised on the Egyptian scene.
No need to fear
“There is no need to fear the MB since they have obviously changed.” Such was the opinion expressed to Watani by political sciences professor and former NDP member Mustafa al-Fiqi.
Dr Fiqi said that, for his part, he was planning to found a new political conglomerate that would include the liberal forces in Egypt, under the name “The National Movement for a Civil State”. The conglomerate, he said, will comprise the membership of some of the most prominent Coptic activists including Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour and Mona Makram Ebeid, as well as liberal Muslims among whom are Khaled Youssef, and Amr al-Shubaky.
“Fear or condemnation,” Dr Fiqi concluded, “is not the answer. The solution is to confront fears with political activism on the ground, which is what we are now endeavouring to do.”