Egyptian Islamists, along with NDP, campaign hard for a "Yes" vote on Constitutional amendments

Dina Ezzat, Thursday 17 Mar 2011

Egypt's Islamist movement, in all its trends, is proving to be the main support for the constitutional amendments to be put to a popular referendum on Saturday, along with the formerly ruling National Democratic Party

proposed amendments
The majority of those who are calling for a Yes vote on the proposed limited constitutional amendments are Islamists.

The leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Gamaat Al-Islamiya, along with jihadists and Salafists are offering their loud support for the amendments drafted recently by a committee appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and that are to be voted on in a referendum Saturday.

On the other side stand the country's most prominent national figures, including intellectuals like Ahmed Kamal Abul-Maged and potential presidential runners Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei.

Facebook — now the nation's best political monitor — is full of comments expressing concern over the fact that it is predominantly Islamists who wish to vote in the amendments.

"This is not about Islamists versus non-Islamists," argued Essam El-Eryan, a leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. Speaking to Ahram Online, El-Eryan insisted that the call for a 'Yes' vote on the proposed amendments is "a national and not an Islamist call".

It is a big mistake, argued El-Eryan, for anyone to try to label the proposed amendments as Islamist. "This not the right moment to get into this political catagorisation and polarisation; this is a moment for the nation to get out of this phase of [confused legitimacy and] onto the road of building a new legitimacy," he said.

According to El-Eryan, those who are concerned that the Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are working to get the proposed amendments adopted to serve an ulterior motive of establishing a predominantly Islamist parliament "are too indulged in ill-timed political calculations".

Time will tell, El-Eryan added, that the best interest of the nation "and not that of the Islamists" is to move beyond the current state of political confusion into the period of building a new regime.

"I am not an Islamist and I would vote yes — even though that I know that Islamists are lobbying hard to pass these amendments," said Karim, a civil servant in his early 50s.

Speaking from a Dokki café, Karim argued that "the right thing to do now is to get into establishing clear legitimacy that would include the drafting of a new constitution at a later but not remote date."

According to Karim, those who have substantive reservations over the current amendments need to realise that they would likely also have reservations over a possible new constitution. 

"For example, I have an issue with Article 2 of the constitution that stipulates that Sharia (Islamic law) is the main source of legislation because I think we should be building a civic state. But I know that the next constitution will keep this article. There will never be a text that would please everyone," he said.

"I will vote Yes; we need to move on," he insisted.

According to liberal political scientist Wahid Abdel-Meguid, those who wish to contain the possible mushrooming influence of the traditionally well-organised Islamists need to vote for the current amendments. "I think that if they have more time, the Islamists, in all their shades, might get more organised and could actually secure more seats in any future parliamentary elections."

The moment now is for "those who made the 25 January Revolution; it is their moment of strength — not that of the Islamists whose map and formulations are undergoing some changes with the release of some radical figures," said Abdel-Meguid.

Equally, Abdel-Meguid said he is not particularly worried that the forces of the erstwhile long ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) would be able to assemble enough influence to secure a considerable number of seats in the next parliament. The mode of operation of the NDP and its associates, he added, needs time for the lengthy process of buying votes. "If they don’t have ample time, they cannot do it," he suggested.

Abdel-Meguid is convinced that "those who managed to assemble the hundreds of thousands and the millions in Tahrir Square" on 25 January and during the 18 days that followed, and those who managed to stand up to the previous regime, are capable "now" of standing up to Islamists and NDP-related interest groups.

Moreover, Abdel-Meguid argued, "at this moment there are some obvious political frictions within society" that would make it very difficult to reach a consensus on a draft for a new constitution within the next few weeks.

To wait now, according to Abdel-Meguid, is to wait too long in an already questionable transitional phase. The fear of an Islamist takeover should not be exaggerated, even though, he insists, it should not be underestimated.

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