Violations and threats abound
The first phase of the referendum on the draft constitution took place on Saturday 15 December; the second phase is scheduled to take place on Saturday 22 December
The first phase of the referendum on the draft constitution took place on Saturday 15 December; the second phase is scheduled to take place on Saturday 22 December.
Official figures place the voter turnout at some 33 per cent, and cite a result of a 57 per cent ‘Yes’ vote in favour of the significantly Islamist constitution. There had been general conjecture that the secular political movement might call for a boycott of the vote, but they decided to participate and vote ‘No’ instead.
The Coptic Church called upon its congregation to actively take part, but stopped short of recommending a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote. “Everyone is free to vote as he or she wishes,” a Church statement said. Pope Tawadros II went down early in the morning and cast his ballot; it took him some seven minutes to do so.
Several NGOs and political movements monitored the balloting and detected violations in the polling process. Major among these movements were the National Salvation Front (NSF); The People’s Stream (PS); The National Monitor for Elections Integrity; The Egyptian Network for Enhancement of Balloting Integrity; and the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections ECME which includes 123 rights groups and NGOs from all over Egypt. The ECME worked in close coordination with the operations room set up by the Egyptian Organistion for Human Rights, with the al-Andalus Centre for Studies on Tolerance.
According to the NSF, some 4,000 complaints were relayed by civil society organisations to the Supreme Referendum Committee (SRC), as well as some 1,500 official proceedings which were filed with different police stations to complain of flagrant violations that warranted legal action.
Hafez Abu-Seada who heads of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, said that it was very alarming that the SRC did not halt the balloting in stations in which there was no judicial supervision, the only guarantee for candid, transparent elections.
The NSF said that the officially declared referendum result of 57 per cent ‘Yes’ for the constitution was false, and that it had monitored a vote count of 66 per cent ‘No’. Together with a number of secular movements and papers, it alleged that the referendum results had been forged.
Some 120 incidents were reported of men who masqueraded as judges.
Since the majority of judges had decided to band together and boycott the supervision task, several Cairo balloting stations included no judges. Government employees, administrative judicial staff or members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) were there to oversee the balloting instead of the judges. Some balloting stations had to be merged into one in order for a judge to oversee the process.
Several cases were reported of judges who refused to verify their identity to voters. In Heliopolis, a young lady was detained by the judge inside the balloting station after she asked to see his identity card, and another was banned from voting after she insisted on checking the identity of the judge.
In a balloting station in Shubra, Cairo, the judge had his gun placed on his desk, for fear of an assault by balloters.
Islamist judges were reported to rally voters to vote ‘Yes’. In the Delta town of Mansoura, a judge was caught filling the voting cards for the voters, and in more than one instance, Christian women were threatened and verbally abused by the judges.
Instances were reported of balloting stations closing their gates for several hours to the long lines of voters—in many cases these balloting stations were in districts known for their criticism of the draft constitution, or were allocated to women—in order for the voters to feel fatigued and leave without casting their ballots. In Cairo and Alexandria, some balloting station closed for several hours for afternoon prayers, or owing to the absence of judges to oversee the process. This led to crowding outside the stations.
In Tanta, skirmishes between judges led to the closures, leaving the polls unsupervised.
‘Yes’ or ‘No’
In the Upper Egyptian town of Sohag, the text of the draft constitution over which the voters were required to cast their ballots was missing. No security was at hand outside the stations. Supporters of the largely Islamist constitution seized the opportunity and directed the voters to vote ‘Yes’, a move which violates the SRC’s decision that bans campaigning within a 200-metre circle from the polling station.
In some constituencies, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) mass-transported voters in buses to vote “Yes’.
Voting cards already ticked ‘Yes’ were reported in Zamalek, Cairo, and in the East Delta province of Sharqiya. In another East Delta province, Daqahliya, a lawyer was spotted filling in the voting cards himself. The voters broke into the polling station and smashed the ballot boxes.
Children were exploited by the MB near their headquarters in Muqattam, Cairo to distribute flyers that invite people to vote ‘Yes’.
A Zamalek football team figure was spotted inviting all sports figure to reject the draft constitution which he said overlooked the rights of sports persons
FJP representatives sat with their laptops in front of some balloting stations and helped voters get the data they needed, all the time campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote. And in Cairo’s more populous districts, women voter were bribed with EGP50 to vote ‘Yes’.
Independent observers and monitors complained that they were denied access to polling
stations by members of the security forces or the military, or by the judges themselves, over claims that only monitors from the National Council for Human Rights were allowed in.
Some judges wouldn’t allow media and press representatives into the balloting stations to follow up on the referendum process.
In Assiut, members of the MB attacked supervisors of the NSF and the PS, and in another they forbid a prominent member of the PS from casting his ballot and attacked him under the nose of the ‘helpless’ security.
A group of Salafis in Alexandria blocked a road to non-veiled women in order for them not to access the polls. In one Nasr City balloting station, the judge denied Coptic women the right to cast their ballots.
There were complaints that, in several polling stations the supervisors did not check the identity of voters. In a station in Heliopolis, Cairo, and another in Alexandria, the ballot box was open.
In England one voter complained that the voting papers were printed in black and white and were neither stamped nor signed by the supervising judge.
In some polling stations there was no phosphoric ink, while in others voters complained that the ink vanished when washed with water.
Some voters did not find their names on the official voter lists, while names of people who were dead figured on many lists.
Incidents of unstamped voting cards were numerous. Discrepancies in voter lists caused the voters to queue for long hours waiting for their turn.
In several balloting stations in Cairo and in Alexandria, the balloting boxes were already full of voting cards only one hour after the balloting started, a fact explained by many as stuffing.
In one Shubra balloting station the identities of women wearing niqab, the full-face Islamic veil, were not checked.
Outright threats to Copts
The day of the referendum saw bearded men in the village of Tama in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag throw flyers at the doorsteps of Copts, threatening them if they dared head to the polls to cast their ballots.
The leaflets warned the “children of the deceitful Tawadros” from standing against the constitution. It threatened the Copts of “the dire destiny” that awaits them if they impede the application of sharia. “You will see blacker days than those your forefathers saw under the Roman Empire,” the text read. “You started with declaring war against Islam and mobilising against the application of sharia, so your churches, monasteries and priests will be attacked if ever we find out about a non-officially licensed church or Christian school.”
And in Assiut, Copts said they had received Islamist threats over their mobile phones or, in many cases, face to face, if they dared go down to vote.
Reported by Robeir al-Faris, Nader Shukry, Hanan Fikry, Mariam Adly, and Angele Reda
18 December 2012