The turnout for the referendum on the new Constitution comes

24-01-2014 05:12 PM

Mervat Ayoub

True, Egyptians did go out and vote in a new Constitution with a sweeping majority of some 98.1 per cent. But the 38.6 per cent turnout—despite the fact that it is the highest turnout in any Egyptian vote over the past half century—was a disappointment for many who had aspired for a higher turnout.

Analysts directly went to work on the results of the referendum. Even in the absence of accurate figures, several aspects were all too obvious. 
Egypt’s youth refrain?
Claims on TV talk shows that Egypt’s youth had refrained from voting found reasonable credibility in light of the fact that Egypt’s youth have constantly been on the side of discontent and rebellion. Yet analysts have been divided on the issue. 
Whereas activist Hazem Abdel-Azeem denied that the youth refrained from voting and insisted they had formed long queues alongside those of the women, film director Khaled Youssef warned against what he termed the anger of the young people. “That many youth refused to take part in the referendum is a catastrophe,” Youssef said. “It indicates underlying frustration that might snowball to unpredictable proportions. The State should try to understand the situation and the reasons for the young people’s withdrawal.”
The absence of real figures—officials and research centres alike agree that it would take at least a month to come up with the actual numbers of young people who voted by going back to the details of the voter ID cards—made it difficult to adequately assess the situation. Conjecture raged about the reasons for the alleged withdrawal of the youth from the vote. 
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Which ‘revolution’?
The media, naturally, was on the front line of opinion. A number of media analysts said the emergence of some Mubarak figures from the shadows served to alienate the youth who saw such a step as going back to the pre-January 2011 times. Opinions which see the 25 January Revolution in 2011 as no more than a US/MB (Muslim Brotherhood) conspiracy and that the real Egyptian revolution was the massive 33 million-strong protest on 30 June 2013 to overthrow the Islamist MBs, have been finding strong voice in the media. As though in confirmation, leaks of phone calls between the youth activists who launched the Facebook campaign that led to the January 2011 Revolution have implicated these youth in the alleged conspiracy, even though the young people claim the leaks are no more than a smear campaign against them. Compounding matters is that the 30 June 2013 supporters insist that the sheer numbers of protestors then, at least 10 times those involved in the January 2011 event, indicate that the mainstream silent majority of Egypt had decided to revolt against what the January 2011 Revolution had brought. The end result is that there exists today a futile conflict of public opinion as to which of the two revolutions was really conducted by the Egyptian people; an argument which serves no purpose at all but may have worked to alienate the activist youth.
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Mere assumption
Official attempts are ongoing to listen to the youth. The Interior Minister Muhammad Ibrahim met with youth representatives, as did the Minister of Social Solidarity Ahmed al-Borai last week. But the meeting achieved nothing, since the youth leaders made demands that were either irrelevant or impossible to meet, including that the press should commit itself to the charter of press honour, that Sisi supporters should not take to the streets together with other demonstrators on 25 January, that the law regulating demonstration should be dropped, that youth should be empowered, and that there should be a cabinet reshuffle. 
For his part, writer and political researcher Soliman Shafiq told Watani that claims of youth alienation were far from the truth. “Nothing so far confirms such an allegation which would take a minimum one month to verify,” Sahfiq says. “I reject the idea that such brouhaha should be stoked on a mere assumption. Obviously, the youth activists are the ones with the loud voice, but the facts on the ground indicate a wide gap between them and mainstream Egyptian youth.”
In total agreement was Watani’s Nader Shukry who was among the monitors of the vote. “Youth participation was minor only in a few polling stations in Cairo and Alexandria. Otherwise, their presence was strong, especially in provincial and rural areas across the country.”
“The one fact we have to go by,” Shafiq says, “is that the turnout among the marginalised—in this case the women, Nubians, and Sinai Bedouin—has been significantly high, meaning that those who have so far gained no benefit whatsoever from any of the revolutions are the ones who cared to vote. In Sinai it was some 34 per cent of the eligible voters, a 70 per cent increase on the previous elections.. I think this is what we, and those in authority, should be focussing on. These sectors have earned for themselves the priority for their rights to be fulfilled.”  
Women: star of the show
Undeniably, Egyptian women were the stars of the show among the voters. They went down in full force. In Egypt where men and women normally queue separately and where women make 48.5 per cent of the electoral force, the women’s queues were conspicuously longer than the men’s. And that was across the board in the various localities in Egypt. Even more striking was their jubilation at the event. They did not queue to vote in silence; they chattered, sang, ululated, and danced in joy. All this in flagrant defiance to threats of terrorism by the MB.
Mona Omar, councillor at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, is not surprised. “Women in Egypt are very highly aware of all that goes on on the political front,” she told Watani, “which made them acutely sensitive to the implications of the vote. They wanted the new Constitution to pass because it was, for them, the first step towards better stability and security. Three years of political turmoil and violence have taken their toll on the Egyptian community, and women especially value security and social peace no end. A ‘Yes’ vote for the new Constitution meant they could be better assured of the safety of their children as they headed to school, as well as of their husbands’ and their own work and movement. It meant more jobs and livelihoods, again a main concern for women.”
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Nubians vote ‘Yes’ to going back home
The Nubians too came out to vote in unprecedented numbers. The Nubian coalition Aidoon, literally We’re Going Back [to their original land alongside the bank of the Nile which they had been obliged to give up for the construction of the Aswan High Dam], had launched the campaign Iyu (Yes) for a Yes vote for the Constitution. In a statement issued by the coalition following the vote, Aidoon said the new Constitution would bring down the curtain on the “extremist religious right” in Egypt. The new Constitution secures the rights of Egypt’s Nubians, especially their right to go back to live alongside the Nile Bank in Nubia, today the banks of Lake Nasser, the huge reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam. This means they can build new villages, which they insist they will name after the 51 villages they had to abandon in the early 1960s and which are now drowned under Lake Nasser. 
“This is the first gift from Egypt to the Nubian people,” Nubian politician Omar Saber says, “after the great sacrifice the Nubians offered Egypt to build the High Dam.” 
Sinai: Innocent of terrorism
Another sector of Egyptians that went out in full force to vote ‘Yes’ for the Constitution was that of the Sinai Bedouin. The Bedouin activist Muhammad al-Sawarka says that the residents of the Sinai areas that have been frequently accused of harbouring terrorism took the trouble to travel to the polling stations which were scattered far across the Peninsula. “It was not merely about voting ‘Yes’,” Sawarka says. “It was about stressing that we are no terrorists; we are patriotic and we reject the MB terrorism.” 
Bedouin women too took part in the vote, a not-so-usual act. In some cases, according to Sawarka, the women had to travel more than 70km to reach the nearest polling station.
When the official result of the referendum was announced, the residents of Arish in North Sinai celebrated the 98 per cent vote with jubilant marches and singing. This went on all through the night till the early hours of the following day heralded Egypt’s new dawn.
WATANI International
26 January 2014
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