Referendum 1 – written 15th December 2012

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed in this and all my blog entries are my own personal views and not representative of Ashoka, ADEW or any organisation with which I am affiliated.

This is a belated posting of an article I wrote just following the first round of voting in the Referendum for the draft Constitution, later passed.

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There are many ways to rig an electoral result or attempt to manipulate your voters. The Egyptian people know this well. Once again our country is occupying a prominent place on the world stage as the first stage of voting on the Constitutional Referendum, a process now split into two parts because most of the judges who should be supervising it are on strike out of protest at its illegality, took place on Saturday. Once again, the world is watching to see which direction our supposed “choice” will take us in.

This is not a referendum for democracy, nor has it been conducted in any kind of democratic way. This draft Constitution that the government is trying to pass is illegal and has been produced in a way that is in itself unconstitutional. Look at the steps that have brought us to where we are now. Just a few weeks ago, the Constitutional Court was looking at whether the committee that had been appointed to write the (now infamous) draft Constitution was representative and legal or not. Given that the Constitutional Committee is a majority Islamist body, just like our Parliament, the Constitutional Court was expected to conclude that it was not representative and was in fact invalid. It was due to deliver a verdict on the legitimacy of the Constitutional Committee on the 2nd December; however when the day arrived thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters went to the court itself and prevented the judiciary from convening there. I was there – I saw them threatening to burn the court and kill its members. Most members of the judiciary have since gone on strike.

The Presidential decree issued by Morsi nearly three weeks ago was a blatant attempt to bypass legitimate judicial opposition to the draft Constitution by removing the District Attorney and reducing the power of the Constitutional Court. It was an attack designed to undermine our judges, 90% of whom have now decided not to monitor the referendum on the draft Constitution. The referendum has gone ahead, but it is not legal. Not only was the draft Constitution itself hurriedly assembled and finalized overnight; the referendum is currently being monitored by state lawyers and clerical staff, government employees who are neither competent nor impartial. According to the March 2011 Constitutional Declaration, which passed after a referendum and which still holds, all electoral referendums must be managed and supervised by judges. By breaking this directive, the government is holding an illegal and invalid referendum. The whole process is a joke but no one is laughing.

Let’s state some things clearly. This is not about two different groups within the country holding different opinions; of course debate and discussion are at the heart of a healthy democracy. This is about Egypt’s Islamists – notably, not the majority – who are attempting to manipulate our system and our people so that they can maintain their precarious hold on power. This is a struggle between totalitarianism and democracy and everyone who cares about the future of our country and region, including the international community, should be firmly supporting those of us who are battling on a daily basis to preserve whatever democratic liberties we have left.

The Constitutional Committee is devoid of any real representation among the liberals and the moderates; there are very few such candidates left after the majority withdrew from the process of writing the Constitution as they could not agree with the Islamists, who dominated all discussions. The Parliament that elected this Committee was not representative, so how could the Committee itself have been? Morsi, during and after his electoral campaign, promised to be a President for all Egyptians. In recent weeks I have encountered many disappointed and disillusioned people asking themselves where that promise is now.

On Saturday I went to cast my vote – a loud and clear “no” against this draft Constitution that demeans women, further marginalizes religious and ethnic minorities and puts all real power in the hands of those who promote narrow-mindedness and terrorism. I had to stand for six hours just for my voice to be heard.

I was in the women’s section in polling stations 13 with 2,500 others – mainly middle class, educated women aged 40 and above. The vast majority had come to vote no. Most of the women were veiled and were not politically active; these were not the young activists I have been standing side by side with outside the Presidential Palace for the last three weeks; most of these in fact were women who had voted for Morsi in the elections. Now their hope has turned to anger and disappointment as they see what kind of future he and his supporters envisage for our country.

That the Islamists choose to be so blatant in their vote rigging and attempted sabotage still amazes me. In the six hours I stood waiting to vote, the state-appointed representative supposed to oversee the voting process (in the absence of genuine judiciary supervision) spent at least three and a half hours eating and praying, a clear delaying tactic designed to deter opposition members from casting our vote. Reports have been flooding in from NGOs that have been informally monitoring the referendum that the same thing happened all over the country. Of the 2,500 women I stood with, perhaps only 1000 were actually able to vote. Some had to go home when it got dark; others were not able to enter the polling station before it closed. While in some areas of the country, polling stations remained open until 11pm to accommodate the number of voters, in many rural areas many of them closed at 7pm, irrespective of whether all eligible citizens had been able to cast their votes or not.

However, the Islamists have once again underestimated the strength and tenacity of the Egyptian people. Again I felt how indomitable my people are when the women I was standing with at the polling station boldly stated that no attempts to dissuade them from voting would stifle their voices. Angry, defiant and united, our voices raised together were strong and powerful: “We will not go”.

This is our message to all those using underhand and threatening means to attempt to mute us. The thugs who again surrounded the Constitutional Court on Sunday threatening to kill judges will not silence us. The fundamentalist groups who less than two weeks ago attacked peaceful young kids demonstrating to express their opinion outside the Presidential Palace before my very eyes will not silence us. The political machine that is desperately trying to manipulate the results of this referendum to get a vote of “yes” at any cost will not silence us.

We are many; we seek peace and the right to live with dignity and respect according to a law that represents our nation in its diversity. We will be heard.

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