Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Cause for concern

Dina Ezzat dissects the results of last week’s referendum

Voters celebrating
Voters celebrating
Al-Ahram Weekly

On one level there is considerable satisfaction in official, partisan and public quarters over last week’s referendum on the constitution.
The interim authorities must at least be content with the slightly more than 20 million turnout. It was, after all, three million more than those who took part in the referendum on the constitution written under Muslim Brotherhood rule. There is a degree of satisfaction, yes, say informed government sources, though it falls short of rejoicing.
One cause of the apprehension felt by leading political and executive figures, including the interim head of state and the head of the army, is the low turnout among voters under 30, a demographic that comprises half the electorate.
On Wednesday interim President Adli Mansour was scheduled to meet with a group of young activists in an attempt to dispel their fears that the political process is being manipulated to exclude the very people who were the locomotive of the 25 January Revolution.
A presidential source told Al-Ahram Weekly that the meeting had been proposed by one of Mansour’s advisors after he “sensed unease in youthful quarters in the run-up to the referendum”. The low turnout among young voters showed that unease to have been well-founded. There is growing apprehension among senior officials that the alienation from the political process felt by young people could transform itself into a new and more aggressive youth revolution.
Official sources agree that the participation of the young was instrumental in the 30 June demonstrations coming across to the world as round two of the 25 January Revolution rather than a counter-revolution orchestrated by remnants of the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and a collection of state institutions that despised the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In his address to young activists, the same source said, Mansour was expected to reflect on what has already been leaked to the daily press in Cairo — that the head of the army, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, is firmly opposed to any attempt to restructure the Mubarak regime. How the message will be received, though, is far from clear.
Several invitees have said they would not be attending a meeting that they characterised as little more than window dressing.
“Obviously, there is apprehension on the side of the young and this apprehension cannot be scrapped in a single meeting, even one with someone as candid as respect-commanding as the [interim] president,” said the presidential source.
Political commentator Amr Hamzawy, who has himself recently faced an orchestrated campaign of character assassination, believes the concerns of young activists to be amply justified given the way the state, and its cheerleading media, has been negatively branding revolutionary activists.
“This discourse of security comes first and that freedom and liberties come second is not something that young people who were openly giving their lives in Tahrir and elsewhere across Egypt from 25 January can accept,” says Hamzawy. He added that while nobody can undermine security it is by no means inevitable that the price of security be paid in freedom.
Hassan Abu Taleb, a political analyst who closely followed last week’s referendum on the constitution, suggests that the reluctance of leading activists to take part does not mean the wholesale withdrawal of the young from the political scene.
“Clearly youth were present. I saw them myself. I think what we should be debating here, away from this debate about the participation of some key activists that actually reduces the entire 25 January Revolution to the act of a selected few, is the need for the state to offer youth at large, not just the political activists, a sense of partnership. The young need to feel they are part of the scheme, an essential part of the scheme for the future of this country rather than just a group that is summoned once in a while.”
Abu Taleb acknowledges that the two-day referendum offered a substantially different picture to the 30 June demonstrations. The latter saw the entire nation, barring the Brotherhood, united in one call: end Morsi’s presidency.
It is entirely predictable that the alliance of 30 June would fall apart and that the pioneers of the 25 January Revolution would be among the first to pull out. “Obviously there are different views and yes, this alliance is no more,” says Abu Taleb.
It is no more, says Wahid Abdel-Meguid, a political commentator who worked closely with all opposition camps during the year of Morsi’s rule, because the glue that bound them together — opposition to Morsi — no longer exists.
“This was not exactly an alliance with a distinct political agenda but a grouping of otherwise mismatched political blocs that came together with a single objective, to get rid of Morsi. Today Morsi is out of office and the debate over how Egypt should be run is not something that those who joined hands on 30 June can agree on.”
According to Abdel-Meguid, it is not only young activists who feel alienated from the political process but the disadvantaged as well.
“Away from the governorates of Fayoum, Beni Sweif and Minya the Islamists have hardly any influence. Yet we still saw a low turnout in places like  resultsSohag and Qena.”
“People living in these governorates need to feel integrated in the mega-schemes of the state. At the moment they feel neglected and unless the state acts promptly and attends to their demands they might continue to turn their backs on the political process.”
Opponents of the current political process, including  from within the Muslim Brotherhood, argue this exclusion of both the young and the poor — they after all comprise a majority of Egyptians — is a clear indicator of the return of the Mubarak regime.
The decision of the Strong Egypt Party, led by former presidential contender Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, to boycott the referendum was largely prompted by the return of Mubarak-era state tactics. Party members were consistently harassed by security forces every time they attempted to organise to promote their position which was originally to vote no in the referendum.
“The state is using the same old tactics, maybe in a more aggressive way. There are random arrests, and oppression of the opposition is becoming routine,” said Mohamed Imam, spokesman for Strong Egypt.
The same concerns are shared in human rights quarters. The text of the constitution, says human rights lawyer Mahmoud Kandil, offers little protection against the comeback of the Mubarak regime and the vested interest groups whose financial contribution was an integral part of the orchestration of 30 June.
“Women were one of the largest voting blocs in the referendum and it is true that the new constitution grants them considerable rights. Yet only a few days after the constitution was adopted with this supposedly landslide victory the State Council declined to assign women as assistants to the prosecutor-general though equality of opportunity is enshrined in the constitution.”
Kandil, like other human rights activists, sees the referendum on the constitution as an exercise in impressing domestic and international observers rather than an expression of any real commitment to pursue a democratic path.
“Democracy is fast being diluted to a text that is unlikely to generate effective laws. We are seeing the forceful marginalisation not just of Islamists but of liberal voices who have protested at the attack on freedom. It is not just the death of the already short-lived 30 June alliance but the return of Mubarak regime tactics that we are seeing.”
In the eyes of some senior advisors the perceived return of the discredited trappings of the Mubarak-era could hamper Al-Sisi’s candidacy should he opt to run for president.
“We told him it was a mistake to promote participation in the referendum and approval of the new constitutional text as mandate for Al-Sisi to run,” says one of his advisors. He added that Al-Sisi had opted for the line to persuade otherwise reluctant voters to go to the polls.
Whether or not Al-Sisi will stand, and if he does whether the vote will be a walkover, remain matters of debate within ruling quarters, though the head of army has expressed his willingness to contest the highest executive post. As several commentators, including Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers, acknowledge, whatever Al-Sisi does or does not do cannot alter the fact that the referendum came as a hard blow to the Muslim Brotherhood. Thumbs up to the constitution was thumbs down to the Brotherhood.
“Whatever political influence remains to the Muslim Brotherhood will be manifested in the next parliamentary elections should they decide to participate. What is certain is that if they do take part, in whatever guise, they will win a fraction of the seats they held in the previous parliament. What we saw on 30 June and what we saw during the referendum was the end of the myth of the ‘Islamist choice’. When even those who did not vote in the referendum last week refuse to join hands with the Muslim Brotherhood in marking the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution we have reached the bottom line,” says Abu Taleb.

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