Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1179, (9 - 15 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Forcing the issue

A week ahead of the constitutional referendum and those campaigning for a no vote complain their hands are tied, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Rallies and seminars are being held across Egypt as political groups mobilise ahead of the referendum on the constitution scheduled for 14 and 15 January.

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Free Egyptian Party, Karama Party, Arab Nasserist Party and the Salafist Nour Party are among the political parties actively campaigning for a yes vote. As part of the “Read Your Constitution” campaign the Popular Current staged rallies in Giza on Friday and in Minya on Saturday in coordination with the Egyptian Social Democratic, Tagammu, Nasserist, Communist and Karama parties, along with the Kifaya and Tamarod movements.

“We will vote yes to the amended constitution,” said Ahmed Fawzi, secretary-general of the Egyptian Democratic Party. “Voting no will pave the way for the return of the Muslim Brotherhood’s 2012 constitution.”

Fawzi argues that “the new constitution guarantees the civil state.”

“A yes vote means progress for the roadmap and will strengthen the economy.”

Atef Adli, the party’s executive media secretary, says that though 90 per cent of party members have reservations about articles allowing the military trial of civilians the party’s immediate goal is to persuade the public to vote yes in order to achieve stability.

The Nour Party, which backed the 2012 constitution, is also backing its replacement. The party is planning a major rally next Sunday at which it will encourage its supporters to vote for the amended charter. Last week it organised a march in Minya to voice its support for the newly-drafted constitution.

Many commentators argue that the Nour’s support of the new constitution, and its backing of the military intervention that ousted president Mohamed Morsi in July, has alienated many members of its core constituency. The Committee of Fifty appointed to revise the constitution, on which a Nour Party representative sat, removed many articles that had expanded the role of religion in public life and which the Salafis had argued were a “red line”. Yet according to Mohamed Ayad, coordinator of the Nour’s pro-constitution campaign, the party “believes the 2013 draft constitution protects Islamic Sharia”.

The Muslim Brotherhood characterises the draft constitution as a “victory for the Church and its secular allies”. To counter such claims the interim government has successfully mobilised religious authorities. Speaking at the Cairo launch of the “Egypt is my country” campaign in mid-December former grand mufti Ali Gomaa urged Egyptians to “support a constitution that will amaze the world and instil fear in the hearts of all terrorists”.

Fearing opponents of the interim regime will attempt to disrupt the vote. At an Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights conference this week on the constitution political analyst Wahid Abdel-Maguid argued that “a 70 per cent yes vote from a 60 per cent turnout is better than 90 per cent approval among a 30 per cent turnout.”

“Go with your wives and your children to the ballot boxes,” Gomaa urged his listeners.

More recently prominent members of the ousted Mubarak regime have voiced their support. Fathi Sorour, who served for two decades under Hosni Mubarak as People’s Assembly speaker, has been giving lectures at which he argues, without a hint of irony, that a yes vote in the referendum will “maintain the gains of the 30 June Revolution”.

Misr Al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) Party, which rejected the Muslim Brotherhood-drafted constitution in 2012, is one of only a handful of political groups calling for a no vote.

Founded by former Brotherhood leader and presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh the party’s membership mostly comprises former members of the deposed Brotherhood. It has been viewed by some as promising moderate “middle way”, and dismissed by others as an offshoot of the Brotherhood.

In 2012 the party rejected the Islamist drafted constitution because “it fails to address social justice and freedom”. Now the party is campaigning against the replacement charter on the grounds the constitution was amended by a committee that failed to represent the diversity of public opinion, worked mostly in secret and pushed through a host of “distorted articles”.

Strong Egypt’s head of public outreach Ayman Montasser complains it is much more difficult to campaign against the draft constitution than in 2012. “We were planning to hold four large rallies to call for rejecting the draft but all of them have now been cancelled,” says Montasser.

He cites instances in which those who reject the new constitution have been physically attacked, and cases of people being arrested as they attempted to campaign for a no vote.

“The last time those who said no were branded as infidels by the Brotherhood. Today they are being branded as traitors by the Brotherhood’s replacements in power.” 

Other groups calling for a no vote include the Revolutionary Socialists, the 6 April Movement, the Revolutionary Path Front and the Salafist Front.

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