EgyptDivisive constitution appears to have been ratified in referendum

Published 17 December 2012

Unofficial results, reported by Egypt’s state media, from Saturday’s first-round vote in the constitutional referendum show that the Islamist-backed draft constitution passed by about 56 percent of the vote in ten of Egypt’s twenty-seven provinces; the result in the first round may not be seen as a sweeping mandate, but the second round promises the Islamists a larger majority: the first round included many of Egypt’s big cities, such as Cairo and Alexandria, where the anti-Islamist groups are powerful; the second round will take place mostly in rural provinces, where the Brotherhood’s influence is much stronger

Unofficial results, reported by Egypt’s state media, from Saturday’s first-round vote in the constitutional referendum show that the Islamist-backed draft constitution passed by about 56 percent of the vote in ten of Egypt’s twenty-seven provinces.

A coalition of liberal and secular groups immediately challenged the results, citing thousands of instances of irregular voting and tabulation.

The New York Times reports that the result in the first round may not be seen as a sweeping mandate, but the second round promises the Islamists a larger majority: the first round included Many of Egypt’s big cities, such as Cairo and Alexandria, where the anti-Islamist groups are powerful. The second round will take place mostly in rural provinces, where the Brotherhood’s influence is much stronger.

The fear in Egypt is not about the hastily drawn draft, which, legal experts note, is not noticeably more Islamist that the current, 1971, constitution. Rather, the vagueness and imprecision in key clauses in the draft, and President’s Morsi’s demonstrated willingness to arrogate to himself sweeping powers, open the door for the gradual introduction of stricter Islamic rules.

Official results will be announced after the second and final round of voting Saturday in the remaining seventeen provinces.

Egyptians have spoken their mind,” the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement. “The people have expressed their free will in the first stage of the constitutional referendum and have also proved to be highly aware. This is a genuine democratic process.”

The main opposition, a coalition if liberal and secular groups calling itself the National Salvation Front, issues a statement Sunday, charging that there were at least 7,000 irregularities, including lack of judicial supervision.

The movement said the government urged its supporters to “terrorize and intimidate the opposition.” It called on its supporters to go out and demonstrate Tuesday “to defend their free will and … end this draft constitution, which is considered to be illegal.”

The Times notes that in Cairo the draft constitution was rejected by a projected 68 percent of the vote. Those figures illustrate what appears to be a growing gap between Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood he leads, and secularists and liberals who charge that he has led the drafting of an unrepresentative constitution which contradicts and undermines the democratic vision which inspired the uprising last year which toppled Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.

There is no constitution in the world that would allow for stability with this kind of division,” the Times quotes Hazem Hosny, a political science professor at Cairo University, to say. “We are divided on core freedoms, political ideologies and the very path this country should take. With this kind of division, Morsi will surely face a resistant nation.”

He added: “Morsi should tread lightly, but the course of his actions proves he will continue down his path regardless of consequences…. The military will not stay on the sidelines if they find Morsi’s decisions a threat to national security or if jihadist Islamists become more vocal and active in the country.”

Political analysts say that if Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood tread too heavily, they may suffer in the parliamentary elections which are scheduled to be held next year. This will especially be the case because the liberal and secular opposition is likely to be united next time, rather than divided, as it was in the presidential elections which brought Morsi to power.

The Times notes that the proposed constitution is not explicitly rooted in sharia but that it is vague and imprecise when it comes to issues such as women’s rights, labor unions, freedom of expression, blasphemy, and permitting Egypt’s leading clerics to be consulted on legislation. Because of this vagueness, liberals are especially worried about Islamic control of the next parliament: with Morsi in power and a constitution which is vague on important issue, an Islamic control of parliament could lead to the erosion of civil liberties.

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