Egyptians’ vote on referendum should lead to real change

Egyptians’ vote on referendum should lead to real change

Now that Egyptians have voted on the new constitution, the country has passed the first signpost on the post-Morsi road-map. As Egypt’s political quagmire continues, the question becomes at what point will the political zero-sum game end and Egyptians begin to face their real problems?

The inflated numbers in the June 30 protests provided the government with a difficult challenge. While the number of protesters is likely to have been much higher than the 2-4 million guess-estimate on which an Al Jazeera documentary insisted, there is nothing to substantiate the 33 million protesters claimed by state media. Insisting on that number presents a dilemma for the military: if 33 million came out to voice their opposition to Mr Morsi in June, it could be expected that they would participate in the referendum a few months later.In the run-up to the protests that led to the removal of Mohammed Morsi in July, Gallup and other polls indicated low support for Mr Morsi and tremendous support for the military. This referendum is the first move to test the popular support for the new road map.

The largest turnout for a referendum in Egypt was in March 2011 – some 18.5 million people took part, which then made up 42 per cent of the Egyptian electorate. The lowest turnout for a referendum was for the 2012 constitution, where some 17 million and 33 per cent of the Egyptian electorate came out to vote. So a 33 million turnout would have been quite a feat – even parliamentary and presidential elections over the past few years did not come close to that number.

The second best target is the 33 per cent turnout for the 2012 referendum during the Muslim Brotherhood rule. For this week’s poll, the military-backed government took a number of measures to match that number, such as by ensuring that voters could vote beyond their own municipality, as in March 2011. They did not give voters the day off, though, unlike during the parliamentary elections in November 2011. Nevertheless, early reports suggest that the government has exceeded this target by a wide margin.

The Brotherhood-led “Anti-Coup Alliance” boycotted this latest vote arguing that participation would validate a process it regards as illegitimate. That led many to stay at home on the election days, and they were joined by many who might have ordinarily voted “no”. The level of unfairness in terms of access to the national and private media from the “no” camp led many to simply conclude the outcome is predetermined, even if the ballots are correctly counted. That leaves Egypt with a predominantly “yes” vote. 

The vote on the constitution is likely to be recognised by the international community, and the interim government will hail it as a major success. Also, the Brotherhood is likely to insist the vote was boycotted by far more than it actually was, to vindicate its call. What is more likely is that far more people stayed at home simply because they have just given up on the political process to bring change to Egypt. Their problems, particularly economic, are structural, and no one in Egypt’s post Mubarak transition has even begun to tackle them. But neither the military, nor the Brotherhood, have shown much interest in consensus building beyond each of their own camps.


Dr. H.A. Hellyer is an ISPU Fellow and a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Royal United Services Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.

This article was published in The National on January 16, 2014. Read it here.


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