Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1127, 20 - 26 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Déjà vu

The referendum on the constitution carries more than an echo of Mubarak-era polls,
writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

The 17 Egyptian governorates that will vote on Saturday in the constitutional referendum include 25.5 million registered voters. The governorates can be divided into four groups: three Suez Canal ones (Port Said, Suez and Ismailia); five Nile Delta ones (Qalioubiya, Menoufiya, Damietta, Kafr Al-Sheikh and Beheira); six Upper Egypt governorates (Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Minya, Luxor and Qena); and three border ones (Marsa Matrouh, the Red Sea and Al-Wadi Al-Gadid).
Zaghloul Al-Balshi, secretary-general of the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC), says there will be 176 main polling stations and 6,724 auxiliary ones operating on the day. The majority are housed in schools, youth centres and courts.
Giza leads the 17 governorates in terms of registered voters, with 4.3 million. It is followed by Beheira with 3.2 million, Minya with 2.7 million, Qalioubiya with 2.6 million and Menoufiya with 2.2 million. The three border governorates of Marsa Matrouh, the Red Sea and Al-Wadi Al-Gadid have only half a million registered voters. The Suez Canal governorates include around 1.5 million voters.
Three of the 17 governorates — Port Said, Qalioubiya and Menoufiya — voted overwhelmingly against Egypt’s current Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, while the Muslim Brotherhood claims solid support in Beheira and Kafr Al-Sheikh as well as in Minya, Beni Sweif and Fayoum.
“The Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis score high in poor and underprivileged governorates,” says Al-Ahram political analyst Nabil Abdel-Fattah. “Areas where poverty and illiteracy levels are high provide fertile ground for the Muslim Brotherhood to recruit members and set up support cells.”
Returns from the first stage of the referendum indicate that though 56 per cent of participant voters in Cairo said “no” to the constitution, the no vote was highest in better heeled districts such as Heliopolis and Maadi, where 67 per cent and 62 per cent out of the total said no. In Alexandria, where 55 per cent of those who voted said yes, wealthier areas such as Montaza and San Estefano were against the draft constitution. In Sohag, one of Egypt’s poorest governorates, 78 per cent of participants voted “yes” to the Islamist-backed constitution.
In the 15 December first round turnout is estimated at no more than 33 per cent. Of those who did vote 57 per cent said yes and 43 per cent no.
Political analyst Amr Hashim Rabie points out that Saturday’s turnout was the lowest in the four national polls held since the 25 January Revolution.
“The turnout in the last presidential election registered was 50 per cent. In the referendum held last year it was 45 per cent,” says Rabie.
The decline in voter turnout, he argues, reflects growing frustration and a lack of trust in elections and referendums held under Muslim Brotherhood rule.
“I think we might be heading back to the Mubarak era when most citizens believed the results of elections were a foregone conclusion.”  
While the results of the first round were cautiously welcomed by Islamists, they met with a mixed response from opposition forces. The National Salvation Front (NSF), led by Mohamed Al-Baradei said that “though manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood the vote clearly shows that a large number of Egyptians reject the constitution and even more abstained from — or boycotted — the poll… two facts that strip the referendum of popular legitimacy.”
In a statement released on 16 December, NSF said “the figures obtained by representatives of the NSF show that 66 per cent of registered voters — and not 43 per cent as claimed by the Muslim Brotherhood — rallied for a ‘no’ vote.”
“The first round of the vote was marked by overwhelming irregularities,” says  Ahmed Al-Borai, a former minister of labour and deputy chairman of the Dostour Party led by Al-Baradei. “The NSF received 7,000 complaints of electoral fraud during the first stage.”
“The number of election violations make it imperative that the first round of the constitutional referendum be revoked and restaged,” insists a coalition of seven human rights NGOs.
In its report — entitled “A Mubarak-style Referendum” — the NGOs say the Muslim Brotherhood was given a free hand to manipulate the vote.  
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party received permissions for 20,000 of its representatives to enter polling stations where many of them played the role of judges. In contrast the vast majority of NGOs were blocked from supervising the poll or attending the vote-counting process.”
The report also notes that “Muslim Brotherhood loyalists were placed in charge of supervising the vote because of a lack of judges.”
“In the absence of judicial supervision several polling stations were merged with the result that thousands of voters were forced to stand for hours in front of polling stations. Inside the stations were overcrowded, and there have been thousands of reports of ballot boxes being stuffed in the resulting chaos.”  
“In Sohag and Assiut many Coptic voters were prevented from casting a ballot, women were forced to stand in line for hours in an attempt to drive them away in frustration and thousands of ballot papers were available outside polling stations — an indication that ballot boxes have been stuffed with pre-marked votes.”  
“The Muslim Brotherhood complained endlessly under Mubarak about the lack of judicial supervision, intimidation by police forces and wide-scale rigging,” the NGO report continued. “Now it is in power the Muslim Brotherhood is using the exact same abuses while simultaneously engaging in a hostile campaign against press freedom.” NGOs report.
The NGOs warned that “the referendum was held in a climate of uncertainty and lack of transparency” and criticised the monitoring role given to the government appointed National Human Rights Council (NHRC). The NHRC, which was responsible for issuing permissions to enter polling stations — in the case of FJP representatives — and refusing permission to most others, is headed by Hossam Al-Ghiriani, chairman of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly that was responsible for drafting the constitution.
“The NHRC and Al-Ghiriani cannot claim a semblance of impartiality,” says Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the independent Egyptian Human Rights Organisation (EHRO). “Few doubt that they would do their best to manipulate the referendum in favour of Islamists. The NHRC’s lack of independence from the government and its refusal to give guarantees about the integrity of the vote tell us all we need to know.”
SEC’s Al-Balshi insists that “judicial supervision of the first stage was complete and full with 7,000 judges monitoring the polls.” It is a figure the Judges Club finds laughable.
“The first stage of the referendum on the constitution was supervised by 1,231 judges,” says club chairman Ahmed Al-Zind. “It would have taken 13,000 to fully supervise the poll.”
“Three quarters of polling stations were left without judicial supervision and nobody knows how they were monitored. And many of those who were forced to supervise the vote were not, strictly speaking, judges. Most of them were members of the State Cases Authority and Administrative Prosecution Authority, not court judges but lawyers or prosecutors employed by the government.”
On Monday State Council judges announced they would take no part in overseeing the second stage of the referendum. Hamdi Yassin, chairman of State Council Judges Club, said that since the “president of the republic has done nothing to lift the siege imposed on the Supreme Constitutional Court or provide guarantees to safeguard judges against the threats of these thugs, 1,400 state council judges have opted not to participate in monitoring the poll.”
The Supreme Constitutional Court has been surrounded for two weeks by Islamist supporters of President Mohamed Morsi who have refuse to allow judges to enter.
The first stage of Egypt’s constitutional referendum was held against the backdrop of severe political divisions. It included 10 governorates: Cairo, Alexandria, Gharbiya, Sharqiya, Daqahliya, Assiut, Sohag, Aswan, and North and South Sinai.
The number of registered voters eligible to cast a ballot in the first round was 26.6 million. Only a third actually voted. Cairo and Gharbiya voted no (56 per cent and 52 per cent). Daqahliya and Sharqiya voted in favour of the draft constitution, 55 per cent and 65 per cent respectively. Alexandria, Assiut, Sohag, Aswan and North and South Sinai also voted yes.
Having decided against a boycott the NSF led the campaign for a no vote, arguing that “the constitution, drafted by a majority of Islamists, aims to turn Egypt into a religious state and represents a threat to basic freedoms and rights.”
The NSF has also filed a lawsuit before the Cairo Administrative Court on the grounds that the referendum violates the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights which states that any referendum held in two stages must take place over two consecutive days.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis mobilised behind the draft constitution.  
“Voting yes is necessary to pave the way for respecting God’s will, to rid Egypt of secularists and liberals and to at last implement Sharia,” railed one Salafist party.

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