Unlike the former constitutional referendum in 2012, which saw an obvious split between Islamists and non-Islamists, polarisation has grown more complicated ahead of the upcoming constitutional referendum.
As much as Islamist political forces showed different postures on the ouster of ex-president Mohamed Morsi and the ensuing roadmap, his opponents during his time in office are not all endorsing the interim administration and the developments since his ouster.
Consequently, the new draft constitution, which will be voted on this month, garnered both support and opposition from both camps – Islamists and non-Islamists – leaving former allies divided.
Islamists no longer unified
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, an Islamist coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood against the ouster of Morsi, announced it will be boycott the upcoming referendum expected to take place on 14 and 15 January.
“The current authority overviewing the referendum is mainly in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has wasted the results of five previous elections,” said leading member of the coalition and Wasat Party member Amr Farouq at a press conference.
The Brotherhood’s Morsi, elected in 2012, was overthrown on 3 July by the army amid mass nationwide protests against him. The Brotherhood-dominated parliament was also dissolved upon his ouster and the 2012 constitution, drafted by an Islamist-dominant constituent assembly, was frozen and amended.
The Islamist alliance includes the Wasat Party, the Islamist Amal (Labor) party and the Gamaa Islamiya.
Youths against the Coup, the youth arm of the Islamist coalition, said it will not only boycott but will seek to sabotage the referendum through acts of civil disobedience.
“We called for a revolutionary boycott,” Diaa El-Sawy, spokesperson of Youths against the Coup told Ahram Online. “Our aim is to make this constitution fail... we will be demonstrating all over the country especially in front of the main polling stations.”
Conversely, the Salafist Nour Party, a former Brotherhood ally during Morsi’s tenure, has been campaigning across Egypt in favor of the draft constitution.
The Nour Party, which gained the second highest number of parliamentary seats after the Brotherhood in 2011, turned against Morsi and his Islamist group a few months before his ouster, arguing they are responsible for the loss of popularity of the Islamist current.
Accordingly, the ultraconservative Salafist party supported the 3 July roadmap and had one representative in the 50 member committee that amended the 2012 constitution.
Despite the party’s rejection to some of the amendments made to the previous constitution, including the removal of article 219–which defines Sharia–the party’s spiritual leader Yasser Borhami has repeatedly urged his followers to accept the constitution.
"There could be foreign intervention, division in the armed forces, collapse of the economy or an internal war between the people [if people vote ‘no’],” Borhami told his followers in a sermon.
Morsi opposition divided too
The Rebel campaign, which started off as a petition for Morsi to step down but later turned into a political movement, has announced its complete support for the constitution.
Parties and groups constituting the National Salvation Front, main opposition bloc campaigning against Morsi while in office, have also announced their support for the new charter.
All the party’s in the Front have endorsed the charter: the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Nasserist-led Popular Egyptian Current, Amr Moussa’s Conference Party, the Free Egyptians Party, the liberal Wafd Party and the Tagammu Party .
However, some support comes with reservations.
Head of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Mohamed Abu El-Ghar, who participated in the 50 member committee, complained in a televised interview that the final draft was changed after the final vote without the committee’s knowledge.
Abu El-Ghar said that the committee had voted on a final draft containing the word "civilian rule" in the preamble, while the version submitted by the committee to the interim president had replaced the phrase with "civilian government."
The term "civilian" is used to mean both non-religious and non-military.
In his interview, Abul-Ghar said the issue was brought to his attention two days after the final vote when the Supreme Council of Armed Forces invited the panel to dinner, distributing a changed version of the constitution.
However, the Social Democratic Party head added “the majority of us did not want to make a fuss out of it so as not to affect the positive voting on the constitution."
The last-minute change was viewed by some, including Abu El-Ghar, as a way to placate the Salafist Nour Party and to ensure they would lobby for a yes vote after their representatives had been angered by the removal of article 219 that imposes a strict interpretations of Islamic law.
"We are sure there was an agreement with a small group of people, including Amr Moussa, without the knowledge of the rest of the committee members, for the benefit of the Salafists to vote yes on the constitution," Abul-Ghar said.
Still, Social Democratic Party member Ahmed Fawzy explained to Ahram Online that despite the party’s reservations regarding some of the constitution’s contents, the majority of its members believe the final draft is the best outcome, given the current circumstances and balance of power.
“We have reservations on the new constitution including on articles allowing the military trials of civilians, all the army articles and those concerning the civil state….we also hoped for better social equality,” he said.
However, Fawzy argued, the constitution will ultimately reflect widespread societal beliefs as people will vote for it in a national referendum.
“Most people see army as the savior...it’s a lost battle [articles related to army and military trials for civilians]…the labor movement is not that strong [to pressure for more social justice] and the society is largely sectarian.”
“For example, I am against article 2 of the constitution [which states Sharia as the main source of legislation] but it’s impossible [to successfully argue for its removal], it was already a success removing article 219 [which allows of a strict interpretation of Sharia],” he added.
All in all Fawzy believes the constitution is much better than the 2012 draft and other constitutions before it.
“[Articles related to] personal freedoms are better than any other constitution [Egypt had], the formation of syndicates and NGOs only requires notification [and not permission], [the constitution requires the application of a] minimum wage and allocates a specified minimum percentage of state budget to health and education,” he argued.
Other groups also opposing Morsi during his year in power saw the articles related to military as reason to reject constitution. Member groups of the Way of the Revolution Front, who position themselves as anti-Brotherhood and anti-military, including the April 6 youth movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Strong Egypt Party announced they would vote ‘no’ to the amended constitution.
The articles groups rejected include that allowing military trials of civilians, that which prevents Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi from being removed for two consecutive terms as well as others.
The Strong Egypt Party for its part also stated it rejected the whole context in which the constitutional amendments and referendum are taking place.
“Despite our participation on 30 June [in mass protests against the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi], we are against 3 July [the day Morsi was announced ousted by army chief El-Sisi, backed by political and religious figures and a new roadmap was declared] and the consequences that followed...since then there has also been an increase in violence and repression,” Mohamed Osman of the Strong Egypt Party told Ahram Online.
Meanwhile, the Constitution Party, founded by political figure Mohamed El-Baradei, who supported the roadmap on 3 July but resigned from post of vice president upon the forceful dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in August, has refrained from taking a position.
The Constitution Party released a statement calling on Egyptians to participate in the upcoming constitutional referendum, describing it as part of the “30 June revolutionary wave,” but refrained from backing either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote.
“In light of fierce attacks by those opposed to the third revolutionary wave of 30 June, the party rejects boycotting the constitution referendum and stresses its support for the roadmap,” the statement read.
The party had earlier released a statement criticising the article permitting the military trials of civilians. It said such trials should be completely banned as they had been in the 1954 constitution.
“Most of the party’s leadership wants to vote ‘yes,’ but for the youths the [article on] military trials of civilians is a problem and the party has a lot of youths,” Alfred Raouf of the Constitution Party told Ahram Online, explaining his party’s position.
The content is not all that is standing in the way of some to vote “yes,” explained Raouf.
“At least ten of the party members are still arrested since the anti-military trials demo and as a consequence of the new protest law,” said Raouf, adding, “There is growing resentment of the regime in general and some members want to say ‘No’ or boycott...they see everything going in the wrong direction.”
Tens of non-Islamist activists were arrested, with some currently facing trial for holding a demonstration against the military trials of civilians at the Shoura Council after a new protest law had been issued requiring a permit from authorities.
Prominent activists were sentenced between two to three years prison for charges including organising illegal protests.
“On the other hand many want to vote ‘yes’ because its a much better constitution than the 2012 one and if the [percentage of the] ‘yes’ vote is less than the previous referendum this will give legitimacy to the Brotherhood and delegitimize the current regime completely, which is negative because that would also serve the Brotherhood” Raouf added.
The final draft of the amended constitution was submitted to Interim President Adly Mansour on 3 December. He announced the referendum will take place on 14 and 15 January 2014.
The 2012 constitution was amended as part of the 3 July roadmap, which included the ouster of Morsi, amending the Islamist drafted constitution–which opposition slammed for not being representative–as well as fresh parliamentary and presidential elections to follow the constitutional referendum.