Hollow victory

A man walks near barbed wire set up by protesters in Tahrir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising, in Cairo, Sunday, Dec.16, 2012. Key Egyptian rights groups called Sunday for a repeat of the first round of the constitutional referendum, alleging the vote was marred by widespread violations. Islamists who back the disputed charter claimed they were in the lead with a majority of "yes" votes. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Although only half way through Egypt’s constitutional “referendum,” it seems that even if only a fraction of the charges against the process turn out to be accurate, the vote is far from democratic.

Seven rights groups, perhaps ironically including the state’s own body, the National Council for Human Rights, claim that Saturday’s vote was beset by violations, ranging from the standard – denying entrance to Christians, who were more than likely to vote “no,” and polls closing early – to the surreal, with power cuts occurring in tandem with the vote count, a phenomenon perhaps borrowed from Lebanon’s Kesrouan district.

But the vote was marred before it even began. The vast majority of judges boycotted the referendum, so most ballots were without neutral observation and rights groups have now alleged that some of those who identified themselves as judges Saturday actually presented false papers.

The lead up to the election had also paved the way for a rocky referendum, with violence between President Mohammad Mursi’s supporters and opponents leading to some 10 deaths and around 1,000 wounded.

After the first round of voting Saturday, the only cities to have a majority “no” vote were Alexandria and Cairo, perhaps not coincidentally the country’s two largest cities, and those areas with the highest levels of education and literacy.

Rights groups claim that in other areas, voters were actively encouraged to vote “yes,” by whispering Brotherhood members, often present within polling stations.

Asides from all these flagrant violations, the turnout for the referendum was low enough to render any verdict worthless. Around 32 percent of people voted, after the first round, with a 56 percent majority. So really, only 18 percent of Egyptians are in favor of the Constitution, if in fact, this was the option they chose, with their free will and without external pressure.

The overwhelming majority of Egyptians does not want the new Constitution then, or does not feel well enough informed or motivated either way. Short of a miracle, however, it seems the Constitution, which will affect the lives of all of Egypt’s citizens, will pass.

Without a large or at least comfortable popular majority, any referendum on a topic this decisive is destined to fail, in so much as its passing will undoubtedly lead to more of the street anger and violence which has already been seen. Passed in such a way, this referendum looks set to sow more dissension and sectarianism.

In this test, apparently designed to display the Muslim Brotherhood’s power, Mursi and his allies have failed. The president has revealed himself to be little more than a puppet for the party, and one happy to do their bargaining for him, no matter what the expense to the country and its citizens as a whole.

Since his election, Mursi has repeatedly acted as if he a representative of one sector of society, and not the country’s many diverse faiths, parties and classes.

This mistake will continue to haunt him, and the country. Making decisions based on the wishes of one party damages Egypt now and in the future.

In the short term it will continue to create strife on the streets, meaning the government will be unable to direct much-needed attention to the dire situation of the economy, the real issue affecting people’s lives.

In the long term it creates a system whereby each successive government will see fit to mold the country and the Constitution as it sees fit. A strong house is not built on shaky foundations. If Mursi does not realize this soon, the future of this new democracy is in jeopardy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2012, on page 7.




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