Referendum 2 – written 16th 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. 

The misconception that the Islamists currently dominating our government represent the wishes of the majority of Egyptian people is dangerous and serves as an excuse for the outside world to sit by and say nothing while attacks, atrocities and manipulations of our legal framework take place.

State media claims that the first part of the Referendum, held on Saturday, resulted in a 57% “yes” vote for the draft Constitution. I strongly question the accuracy of this result. Furthermore, this is an illegal Referendum. Most of the judiciary that according to our existing Constitution must supervise the voting process is on strike, protesting the illegitimacy of the Committee who assembled the new draft Constitution.

A disputed majority in an electoral process deemed illegitimate and unconstitutional by legal experts does not signify the approbation and the support of the Egyptian people. But then we are no strangers to being in the midst of a political landscape that does not reflect our desires and wishes.

Look at the elections. For Morsi to have won the presidency against Shafiq in June some kind of deal must have been made with the army; this is widely acknowledged among political analysts and those who were closely following electoral developments. Perhaps the army recognized that the collective outcry among supporters of the revolution and the Islamists would be too great if Shafiq was made President. Certainly Shafiq was portrayed as a Mubarak man in the run-up to votes for the presidency being cast.

But if you look at the first round of the elections, there was very little difference between the first three candidates, Morsi receiving 5.7 million votes (24.3%), Shafiq 5.5 million (23.3%) and independent liberal candidate Hamdeen Sabahi 4.8 million (20.4%).

For a large number of voters, choosing whether to vote for Morsi or Shafiq in the second round of the elections was an impossible decision; they were the two least desirable candidates out of the original thirteen. But with a lack of unity in the liberal camp and candidates like Amr Moussa and Aboul Fotouh seen as watered-down versions of Shafiq and Morsi, it was the latter two who emerged predominant at the end of the first round. For most of us, it was a disastrous result. Many supporters of the revolution, unable to give their voice to Shafiq in what they felt would be a betrayal of all the revolution’s goals, reluctantly cast their votes in favour of Morsi. Many others abstained entirely, refusing to make the choice. Out of 50 million Egyptians eligible to vote, while 46% participated in the first round of elections, only 40% took part in the second. This is a loss of at least 5 million people.

I had already seen what was coming and feared the worst. There is no question that the Muslim Brotherhood had planned well and also used underhand methods to secure votes from the uneducated and politically naïve. Well-documented cases of Muslim Brotherhood members giving oil and sugar to the poor, illiterate and uneducated in both rural and urban areas in order to secure votes that would benefit them during the presidential and parliamentary elections and even in the constitutional referendum of early 2011 abound.

None of these signify a real endorsement of Islamist ideology at the grassroots level. What they show, in fact, is a group that is willing and ready to manipulate vulnerable members of the population using any means necessary. This is a group that had no qualms about saying, during the constitutional referendum – publicly lauded as the first free and fair election in Egyptian history – that voters should vote a green “yes” to proposed amendments rather than a red “no” because “green is the colour of Islam”.

The Islamists are attempting to concentrate all legal and executive power in their own hands. After the Islamist-majority parliament was legally – if controversially – disbanded by the Constitutional Court in June, one of Morsi’s first actions as President was to try to reinstate it. Unable to prevail over the Constitutional Court which stood against him, he now seeks to undermine it. The subsequent appointment of two brothers, both Muslim Brotherhood supporters, as Vice-President and the Minister of Justice showed an insidious creeping towards an exclusively Islamist government, later compounded by this illegal presidential decree put in place so that he could remove the District Attorney and replace him with yet another Muslim Brotherhood supporter – this time the brother-in-law of the Minister of Justice. The draft Constitution, an assault upon the rights and freedoms of minority groups and all of those who seek equality – liberals, Christians and women, among others – aims to reduce the number of judges in the Constitutional Court from 18 to 11 and to remove liberal and female members. Now and under the new Constitution, Morsi is attempting to put all the legal, judiciary and executive powers of the country in his and his parliament’s – notably the Shura Council’s – hands. By so reducing the power of the judiciary and trying to limit or eliminate judicial supervision of governmental decisions and political activity, he is ensuring that no real democracy can possibly take place. He is wresting power from the few bodies or individuals who may prove a threat to him and establishing his own dictatorship based on Islamist ideology.

How can he possibly justify such an audacious grasping of power? Surely, the international community may ask, there must be such outrage from all quarters as to make such a blatantly unfair act impossible.

No. Once again, Morsi is relying upon the idea that he is the only viable alternative to the old regime in order to justify his hunger for power. His excuse for issuing the decree that no judicial authority could challenge his decisions was the assertion that the judiciary and specifically the District Attorney were appointed by Mubarak. But even if this is true, does it give Morsi some kind of overarching moral authority, meaning that his decisions are beyond question? Just because Mubarak and his regime were dictatorial and corrupt, does that make Morsi and his regime unimpeachable? Does he really think the Egyptian people are stupid and unable to see beyond such a narrow and simplistic view?

Mubarak was criticized for pervasive corruption, human rights violations and a persistent clinging to power symbolized most powerfully by his refusal to have a Vice-President and his decision in 2007 to remove judiciary supervision of elections. Now here we are with Morsi doing exactly the same things. In the face of judicial opposition he issues a sweeping decree to remove his opponents and push through his Islamist-favoured draft Constitution. With diplomatic missions refusing to support him and millions of people peacefully protesting against him in the streets, he has at the very least condoned Islamist-instigated violence against protestors in response to these demonstrations. He could not possibly have been ignorant of these attacks. How then is he in any way better than Mubarak?

In the last week, reports have emerged of the torture of protestors by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, of people being forced to confess to crimes they have not committed, such as accepting money to protest against the draft Constitution – blatant lies issuing from the mouth of a desperate government drunk on its small taste of power.  A brave District Attorney refused to be part of this and released all the victims who Morsi had previously claimed had confessed to being paid thugs. In the last six months, Morsi has released many prisoners who have committed terrorist crimes, who were not prisoners of opinion as they claimed to be and whose support he is now riding upon. He may present a “warm and affable” front (the opinion of a New York Times journalist, some months ago); but look to his supporters if you want to see the true nature of what he wishes Egypt to become. These are same supporters who just last week broke up peaceful protests in New Cairo using weapons and intimidation to spark violent confrontations in the streets. They are the same supporters who claim to be political leaders or prisoners of opinion but who demonstrate holding placards of Bin Laden and al Qaida flags. 

Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are not supporters of real democracy. Their draft Constitution will never receive a yes from me or from any fair, egalitarian, free Egyptian I know.  

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