Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Voting for division

In the face of widespread opposition and in the absence of full judicial supervision the referendum on Egypt’s constitution will go ahead as planned, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The referendum on Egypt’s constitution offers ominous signs to what may happen, regardless of the result of the vote. Massive protests from opposers and supporters of President Mohamed Morsi’s are filling the nation’s streets and not promising to end their demonstrations even after the referendum, while contradictory decisions from the presidency and government are adding more salt to injury and more confusion in the heads of the Egyptians.
The referendum on the controversial draft constitution will now take place on two separate dates. The electoral commission announced that the vote, initially set for 15 December, will also be held on 22 December because many judges have refused to supervise the vote.
Moreover, a decision by the military yesterday to suspend talks on national unity that it had requested to hold further added to the tension.
The unexpected twist came on Tuesday when the defence minister invited the opposition, along with judges, saying he was doing so in his personal — not official — capacity.
Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who is also head of the Armed Forces, had said the talks would not be political in character. “We will sit together as Egyptians,” he said. “We are not concerned with politics. We want to reassure the people that we can sit together,” added Major General Mohamed Al-Assar, Al-Sisi’s deputy.
However, yesterday, the army said in a surprise announcement it was suspending the gathering that would have included the National Salvation Front represented by Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed Al-Baradei, former foreign minister Moussa and ex-presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi. Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood were also to have attended.
The NSF boycotted talks last week convened by the president.
Still, the army is keeping itself busy. Morsi ordered it to back up police by protecting “vital state institutions” and giving officers powers to arrest civilians during the referendum.
Ahead of last summer’s presidential elections Morsi railed against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for giving soldiers the power to arrest civilians.
“SCAF is not authorised to issue such a decree while parliament is still in session,” Morsi told Al-Jazeera last June. “The army and military intelligence officers could use this licence to manipulate the polls.”
Now Morsi is president, he has resurrected the army’s powers of arrest, issuing a decree allowing soldiers to detain citizens because, he says, it is necessary to “maintain public order and safeguard election facilities” until the referendum on the controversial constitution the president is clearly desperate to see ratified is over.
His move provoked an outcry from the opposition and human rights organisations.
Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights (EOHR), argues that “by seeking the army’s help Morsi believes he can send a message to the opposition that the military is on his side and that no force will be able to depose him.”
“I would have hoped the army would reject Morsi’s decree, realising that the public would view their compliance as indicating the military’s willingness to act as a tool in the hands of a dictator and side with one camp against another.
“We do not want the army to be dragged into politics by Morsi,” Abu Seada added, “and then find itself involved in bloody clashes with protesters on referendum day.”
Abu Seada noted that Morsi called in the army after officials from the Muslim Brotherhood — the group from which he hails — accused the Interior Ministry of not doing enough to prevent attacks against its headquarters in Cairo and its offices in different governorates. Media reports claim Brotherhood officials had even asked Morsi to refer Interior Minister Ahmed Gamaleddin to trial because of “refusal to safeguard the group’s headquarters against attacks”.
Gamaleddin defended himself on Monday, insisting that “police forces will never work for the interest of one faction at the expense of the other.”
The legitimacy of Saturday’s referendum faces several challenges.
A majority of Egypt’s judges had announced they would not participate in supervising the poll. Judges from the State Council (administrative courts) and the State Cases Authority said on Monday and Tuesday that unless the two-week siege by Morsi’s supporters of the headquarters of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ended immediately they would have nothing to do with the referendum. General assemblies of judges from most governorates have also said they will refuse to monitor the polls.
Abdallah Fathi, deputy chairman of the Court of Cassation, claims that Prosecutor-General Talaat Ibrahim recently conducted a poll of prosecutors and found that 95 per cent were against overseeing the polls.
Egyptian workers abroad were supposed to vote on the Islamist-backed constitution last Saturday but the poll of expatriates was postponed until Wednesday after the logistical dilemma caused by Morsi’s fast-tracking the referendum hit home.
The expatriate vote began with the polling of more than 500,000 Egyptians at embassies and consulates in 150 countries.
Last week 250 diplomats signed a communiqué refusing to take part in overseeing the poll at Egyptian embassies and consulates.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), an umbrella organisation grouping liberal, leftist and nationalist forces, has decided to rally for a “no” vote. The NSF, led by Al-Baradei, says it will continue to organise mass protests in front of the presidential palace.   
Karima Al-Hefnawi, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Socialist Party, draws parallels between what is happening now and Mubarak’s fast-tracking of constitutional amendments in 2007.
“The scenario is the same. What happened in 2007 was that the rushed amendments not only stripped the referendum of legitimacy but also paved the way for Mubarak’s eventual ouster four years later.”
Emboldened by widespread public outrage that greeted Morsi’s constitutional declaration and his attempt this week — subsequently withdrawn — to raise taxes and the prices of electricity and other commodities, the NSF is now gambling that hundreds of thousands will join demonstrations and street protests against Morsi.
Protests will continue in front of Al-Ittihadiya (presidential palace) even after the referendum is held, says political analyst Amr Hamzawy.
“Our fight against Morsi’s dictatorial policies will continue long after the referendum,” he insists.
Morsi’s 8 December move to rescind some of the extraordinary powers he had granted himself in his controversial sweeping decree on 22 November has done nothing to placate his critics. The president’s 8 December declaration, say the opposition, failed to meet their minimum demands which include the cancellation of all Morsi’s extraordinary powers and the election of a new Constituent Assembly to draft a more inclusive constitution.
The Strong Egypt Party, led by former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, has said it is recommending a “no” vote at the referendum rather than a boycott. The same position has been adopted by political activist Ayman Nour whose Ghad Party says it will launch a “no” campaign because the draft constitution singularly fails to meet the demands of the 25 January Revolution. They also condemned the manner in which the national charter was steamrolled through by Morsi’s supporters on the Constituent Assembly.
Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood officials are busy fanning conspiracy theory flames. Khairat Al-Shater, the group’s multi-millionaire strong man, claims to be in possession of evidence proving that senior officials of Mubarak’s former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) have infiltrated the opposition’s ranks and are masterminding a coup against President Morsi. Al-Shater resurrected Mubarak-era accusations, repeated by the military who took control after Mubarak was ousted, that “hidden hands” are behind the opposition to the president.
Whether such claims can improve the Brotherhood’s image after anti-Morsi protesters in front of the presidential palace were brutally attacked by an armed militia remains to be seen.
“They captured, tortured and even killed protesters in the early hours of 5 December,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad. “The statements Brotherhood officials are now making makes it clear that they see themselves as the ones who are really in charge. Morsi is just a puppet in their hands. Like Mubarak, they will continue promoting unsubstantiated conspiracy theories until they silence, or detain, all opposition forces.”
Gad believes that the Muslim Brotherhood has become increasingly belligerent because of Washington’s backing of Morsi.
“They believe that Obama stands with Morsi and this gives them licence to remain in power whatever the cost,” says Gad.
He believes the crisis will not abate following the referendum.
“Even if the constitution is passed tensions in Egypt will remain. This is about a man who does not want to be a president for all Egyptians but rather serve as the front for a secretive and autocratic group that is far worse than the Mubarak regime.”

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