Although it was not approved by an overwhelming majority and was boycotted by 34 million Egyptians, the constitutional referendum was nevertheless hailed by Islamists as a victory, Gamal Essam El-Din reports
As expected, the highly controversial final draft of the constitution was approved by Egyptians this week. The “yes” vote, however, was by no means overwhelming as Islamists had wished. Semi-official results show that almost 10.5 million — or about 64 per cent — voted in favour of the constitution in the two-stage referendum, while almost 6.5 million — or about 36 per cent of participants, said “no”.
What is more striking is that out of 51.3 million registered voters, a mere 17 million (32 per cent) — or a little bit above a quarter of the total — decided to participate. This means that the vote was boycotted by 34 million Egyptians (68 per cent), much lower than last year when 44 per cent of registered voters turned out in the millions to participate in a yes or no referendum on a constitutional declaration on 19 March.
The second stage of the referendum, which was held on 22 December, saw six million — out of 25.5 million registered voters — approving the constitution. This is compared to 2.4 million who voted “no”.
Out of 17 governorates in the second stage, just one — the Nile Delta governorate of Menoufiya — voted “no”. All in all, three governorates — Cairo, Gharbiya and Menoufiya — voted against the constitution. The three voted against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi during last summer’s presidential election.
It was noted that a number of governorates that did not vote for Morsi opted to vote for the referendum. Most significant of these were the governorates of Qalioubiya, Port Said and Luxor. Port Said and Qalioubiya, however, registered the most modest “yes”, with 51 per cent and 60 per cent respectively.
Other Nile Delta and Suez Canal governorates such as Beheira and Ismailia registered big approval, with 75.5 per cent and 70 per cent respectively. The border governorates such as Marsa Matrouh and Al-Wadi Al-Gadid registered the highest “yes” vote, with 91.7 per cent and 88.4 per cent respectively.
The highly conservative governorates of Upper Egypt — Fayoum, Minya, Qena and Beni Sweif — rallied strongly for the constitution, registering 89 per cent, 83 per cent, 85 per cent and 86 per cent respectively.
In Giza, the governorate with the biggest number of registered voters in the second stage (4.3 million), the result was 66 per cent for the yes.
The sweeping pro-constitution vote in the second stage was by no means distressing to the National Salvation Front (NSF) which championed a national campaign against the referendum and President Morsi’s policies. Hamdeen Sabahi, a leading member of the front, said “the referendum was boycotted by most voters and if this is to add to the 34 per cent who said ‘no’ the result will be that most Egyptians are against the new constitution. This strips the constitution of the required legitimacy, not to mention that the big drop in the number of participants reflects a growing lack of confidence in the integrity of elections and referendums held under the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Sabahi argued. He vowed that the front would continue struggling against the Islamist-backed constitution “until it is scrapped by the people”.
The NSF, in a statement on 23 December, accused the Muslim Brotherhood of “rigging the referendum’s second stage on a wide scale. The ‘yes’ result is not the end of the story and we have documented all violations including fraud, stark irregularities and complete lack of judicial supervision,” said the front. It accused the Brotherhood of imposing its control on most polling stations, especially in border and Upper Egypt governorates where it charged that thousands of ballot boxes were stuffed.
Sabahi said, “the general result shows quite well that the referendum, which failed to get a national consensus, led to severely polarising the nation into two camps. The religious minority in this country managed for now to impose their constitution on the entire nation, but we will never keep fighting against it,” said Sabahi. He indicated that the front, “although fiercely attacked by fanatic religious forces, is now pondering running in the next parliamentary elections under one list in a bid to stem the tide of religious fanaticism.”
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, another NSF leader, stressed that the front “would stand steadfast in the face of all sharp attacks from religious extremists and we are currently studying the possibility of merging into one political party to stand up to Islamist forces in the upcoming parliamentary elections.” Abul-Ghar indicated that the front rejected an offer from Morsi for some of its leading members to be appointed in the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council. “This council was invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court and we are not ready to accept a political bribe in return for scrapping our principles,” said Abul-Ghar.
For their part, Islamists — led by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood — welcomed the results “because they express the true will of millions of Egyptians.” Saad Al-Katatni, chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said in a statement on 23 December that “the vote should be a hard lesson to those who wanted to rally the people against the constitution.” Al-Katatni argued that “a 64 per cent ‘yes’ vote is good and shows that the popularity of President Mohamed Morsi is still high.”
Farid Ismail, another FJP official, urged secularists to accept a dialogue with Islamists “and respect the people’s will.”
Statements by Islamists, however, did not appear to match deeds. The Brotherhood moved this week to impose its complete control on the Shura Council. Its officials said they would exploit the legislative powers granted to the council to implement their Islamist-oriented legislative agenda. Ismail told Al-Ahram Weekly that “we have several laws in the pipeline to implement our Nahda [Renaissance] programme. On top of these are laws aimed at banning senior officials of ex-president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party [NDP] from standing in parliamentary and presidential elections,” said Ismail, adding that “we also have urgent laws about the electoral system; the issuance of Islamic sukok [bonds]; and regulating street protests.”
The politically monopolistic practices of the Brotherhood and its ultra-conservative Islamist Salafi allies led several secular revolutionary forces to accuse them of becoming another NDP. The revolutionary 6 April movement said on 25 April that the Muslim Brotherhood “has become another NDP, seeking to monopolise power in any way and does not find shame in rigging elections by means of pursuing the same tactics adopted by Mubarak’s regime and NDP.”
“Like the NDP,” said the movement’s leading official Ahmed Maher, “they never keep promises and cannot be trusted in any way in what they say. They do what they do not say and say what they do not do,” said Maher.
The movement vowed that it would do its best to rid Egypt of the new constitution, announcing that it would be leading street demonstrations on the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.
Many political analysts now believe that President Morsi’s next move will be imposing the Brotherhood’s complete control over Egypt or “Islamising the country”. Gamal Zahran, an independent political analyst, told the Weekly that “Morsi would most probably move to appoint the Muslim Brotherhood’s business tycoon and strongman Khairat Al-Shater as prime minister instead of current Prime Minister Hisham Kandil whom several Brotherhood officials have sharply accused of performing poorly and have demanded his removal.
“The Brotherhood could soon be in complete control of the executive and legislative authorities,” said Zahran, adding that “as for the judiciary, Morsi’s Brotherhood will move quickly to silence all defiant judges and contain any dissenters who might insist on asking for independence.
“The first move came when Morsi ordered thugs to impose a siege on the Supreme Constitutional Court [SCC] and then forced his newly-appointed Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdallah to backtrack on resigning from office. A second step could come in the form of amending the judicial authority law to get rid of several judges standing against Islamisation.
“To sum up,” argued Zahran, “Morsi and his allies will do their best to Islamise — or rather Brotherhoodise — the judiciary to ensure complete control on the three branches of power,” said Zahran.
According to Zahran, the Brotherhood shows no concern over the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections expected to be held in about two months. “They began by tailoring the constitution to grant their dominated-Shura Council all legislative powers necessary to implement their Islamisation agenda, and then moved to ensure an easy success in parliamentary elections by stripping their formidable NDP foes from participating,” argued Zahran.
Essam Al-Erian, a leading FJP official who was appointed to the Shura Council this week, said the FJP will compete for 100 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives (formerly the upper house of parliament).
Zahran also expects that the Sunni Islam learning institution of Al-Azhar will be an important target of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist extremist allies in the next stage. Yasser Burhami, a Salafist firebrand, said this week that “Salafis would do their best to remove the current Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb from office.” Burhami made it no secret that Islamists view Al-Tayeb as an NDP remnant and that they would dispose of him as soon as possible.
Zahran believes that “the real intentions of Islamists are to impose complete control over Al-Azhar to turn it from an institution raising the voice of moderate and centrist Islam into “a reactionary Islamist force.
“Do not forget that articles 4 and 219 give Al-Azhar’s council of grand clerics an upper hand in explaining the principles of Sharia [Islamic law], and that Islamists from now on will do their best to dominate this council,” contended Zahran.
In another direction, most secular political analysts believe that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will also move to muzzle freedom of speech. “Independent satellite television channels will be a main target, especially as they are highly critical of Morsi’s dictatorial polices and highly effective in exposing his group’s fascist practices,” said Zahran.