Truth in numbers: How much legitimacy is legitimate?

Mary Mourad , Sunday 7 Jul 2013

Legitimacy in democracy rests with what represents the will of the people best. Looking at the numbers, Tamarod marked the death of one legitimacy and the birth of another

Legitimacy Timeline
Legitimacy timeline (Photo: Ahram Online)

The current political debate about "legitimacy" has caused a lot of stir globally, with question marks drawn on whether the actions of the army were a "coup on legitimacy" or "legitimised" the true will of the Egyptian people. Right now, with above 88 million inhabitants in the country, and over 50 million with right to vote, it is a very tricky question.

Demonstrations: Renewing legitimacy?

To make headway, one needs to bring some numbers into the equation. One has to start with the moment when the first "millions of Egyptians" took to the street, on 25 January 2011. Throughout 18 days, the most generous estimates indicated a "few million" Egyptians, but nobody claimed any more than five million.

The result of these mass protests was Mubarak stepping down, handing power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

However, nobody called that a coup. Reason? Mubarak wasn't a democratically elected president, although he did run in 2005 elections and received 88.7 percent of the votes, representing some 6.3 million voters as claimed back then.

To be sure, the procedure was unfair and tainted by significant fraud, although international media hardly spoke of its "illegitimacy" at the time.

Constitutional legitimacy: 10.69 million votes

The first national test of legitimacy came within weeks of Mubarak's ouster. As soon as SCAF took over power starting 11 February 2011, they called for a referendum on amendments to the 1971 constitution on 19 March 2011. The claim at the time was that the referendum was on the legitimacy of the military ruler. Some 18 million Egyptians queued to register their opinion. The amendments were passed with a 77 percent majority of 14.1 million voices. At the time, some 51 million Egyptians had the right to cast a vote.

Later, under Mohamed Morsi, constitutional legitimacy came from one of the most contentious documents ever debated in the country's history. Failing to fulfill his electoral promises to adjust the imbalanced Constituent Assembly, Morsi continued with a flawed committee of 100 individuals chosen by an unconstitutional and then dissolved People's Assembly, to formulate the country’s course into the future.

The final draft of the constitution was discussed and passed in one epic session by the minority-selected Shura Council (the upper house of parliament) with a 50 percent +1 vote (later that same Shura Council was declared unconstitutional based on the electoral law followed in its selection) The new constitution was then put to a referendum where 16.7 million Egyptians participated: 10.69 million approved it (63.8 percent of the votes) while 6.06 million rejected it. The total turnout was low set against 51.9 million Egyptians with voting rights.

In brief, the social contract that binds the country’s legitimacy was passed and approved by some 10.69 million Egyptians, represending some 20 percent of the 51.9 million citizens with righ to vote, and binding 88 million individuals.

Legislative legitimacy: 6.4 million votes

The second leg of legitimacy is parliament, the legislative authority.

The first post-January 25 parliamentary elections were called for the lower house (the People’s Assembly) in November 2011 and the upper house (the Shura Council) in March 2012.

The People’s Assembly elections attracted 27.8 million voters. However, the body met for less than four months before being dismissed as unconstitutional. The Shura Council elections, however, attracted a slim number of voters for only 180 seats of its 264: 6.4 million voters. Out of these, the FJP earned some 3.7 million, earning 58.3 percent of the seats. 84 seats, the rest of the 264 seats of the Council were filled by direct appointment from Mohamed Morsi later on.

The Shura Council was the "legitimate" legislative power that balanced Morsi's executive powers after dismissal of the People's Assembly. Later on, the Shura Council was also declared unconstitutional, but to avoid a political vacuum, it was requested to stay in authority until elections were called.

In brief, Egypt's legislative authority wasn't constitutional, and anyhow represented only 6.4 million who voted out of the 51.9 million with right to vote.

Executive authority: Presidential legitimacy at 13.2 million votes

The presidential elections attracted a much larger voter base, with some 22.8 million voters in the first round, Mohamed Morsi earning 5.6 million votes. Some 26.4 million voters participated in the runoffs where Mohamed Morsi won with a slim majority of 13.2 million votes, equivalent to 51.73 percent of total votes out of the 51.9 million registered voters.

Baseera Tracker
Morsi's Approval Rate during 12 Months in Office (Data: Bassera - The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research)

Morsi's legitimacy was based on this slim edge. However, he managed to attract significant support of Egyptians immediately after winning. First opinion polls about the president, conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera), indicated that approval of Morsi was rose to 76 percent on his second month, and went as high as 79 percent in his third month.

However, that same measure of approval dropped month on month, and went below 50 percent in February 2013, to reach 42 percent at the time when the Tamarod campaign started collecting signatures in May, and was at its lowest so far — at 32 percent — one year after Morsi took office.

In short, Morsi’s legitimacy eroded by more than half within this one year, equivalent to, say 6.6 million votes.

Tamarod (Rebel) legitimacy: 22 million signatures

In May 2013, Tamarod (Rebel) campaign started collecting signatures to request Morsi to step down for failing to meet the people's demands, for which they had entrusted him in their ballots. The aim was to submit the signed petitions for action at the High Constitutional Court 30 June, meaning that the people, defined in the 2012 constitution as the source of all legitimacy, take action to oust Morsi.

Tamarod succeeded in collecting 22.1 million signatures. Mohamed Morsi, however, completely disregarded the warning signs and claimed that a parallel pro-Morsi campaign, Tagarud, would show his real support. That campaign claims they succeeded to collect over 27 million signatures, although independent polls by Baseera indicated only six percent approved of it, compared to 39 percent for Tamarod.

The people once more: Source of all legitimacy

The estimate of how many Egyptians took to the streets 30 June 2013 is debatable, the army claiming some 17 million, while other sources "a few million." But there's no doubt that whatever estimate was made in 2011 would have to be multiplied a few times to represent the masses that flooded squares throughout the country, not only Tahrir, the historical "Liberation Square."

Whatever the true number turns out to be, it is obvious that "legitimacy" as Morsi had defined it was a thinly-supported concept, representing at best a few million Egyptians who voted for the Shura Council, then voted him into the presidency, and later passed the constitution.

These "majority votes" barely stand up against the Tamarod campaign, and so can't claim to be more "legitimate" or "democratic" than the millions who not only entered the street 30 June, but put their name and ID numbers to a signature drive that demanded Morsi's ouster.

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