Contentious Egypt referendum over, so what next?

Dina Samak , Sunday 20 Mar 2011

Initial results show Egyptians voting "yes" to a referendum on constitutional amendments, but only to find themselves facing a new dilemma about the transitional period leading up to elections

Baradei attacked
Egyptian presidential Mohamed ElBaradei (C) leaves a polling station after he was attacked by thugs, shoving him and smashing his car window with rocks as he left. (Photo: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Egypt finds itself in a dilemma even before the final results of the referendum on the constitutional amendments are announced. “What’s the next step?” they ask themselves.

Major General Mamdouh Shahin, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legal Affairs, said to Al Shorouk Daily Newspaper that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces will issue a constitutional declaration that organises the transitional period. 

The announcement will depend on the results of the constitutional referendum and will use the amendments as a guide for the coming period in case that it is accepted by the majority of voters.

If the amendments are accepted, this will push the parliamentary elections ahead of the presidential elections, after which both the new president and parliament would be in charge of drafting a new constitution via an elected constituent assembly. However, no timeframe for such a plan has yet been submitted.

"This is a question of logic," says pro-reform Judge Ahmed Mekky, who sees that a constitutional declaration is required in any case, not only because revolutionary forces reject the idea of reviving the 1971 constitution, but also because it would bring about a complex constitutional dilemma with respect to the presence of the Armed Forces as an interim ruler.

"The amendments are more like a transitional plan, but the problem is that this was not clear to most of the people who decided to go and vote for or against them."

In other words, people should have been more aware that they were actually voting on whether the presidential elections or parliamentary elections should come first.

This should have been the major subject of debate, Mekky clarifies: "those who thought that voting for the amendments means that the interim military rule will hand its responsibility to a civil constitutional figure should have understood that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ rule was not the subject of debate."

The military declared that it will be in charge for six months or until the presidential elections. And that could take more than six months, according to many analysts.

So what do the two camps of voters think?


The Muslim Brotherhood, which was the biggest political force urging people to vote for the amendments, announced that they will submit to the outcome of a societal dialogue on the transitional period, even though they support holding the elections soon, so that the military can hand power over to a new government and elected president within six months.

"We are facing serious threats on our borders and the longer the transitional period lasts, the more the burden is on the military," says Esam El-Erian, "but we will heartily accept whatever the majority sees as best for the future of Egypt," he adds.

What motivated many to vote “Yes” is the assumption there would be a clear plan versus no plan at all if they voted “No.” 

For instance, Sobhy Saleh, of the Muslim Brotherhood, who participated on the constitutional reform panel, argues that rejecting the amendments would open the door to an uncertain future, since the alternative road is not clear. 

Now, however, many find that even if the amendments are accepted that the situation won’t be clear, either. 


Many of those who voted against the amendments say they want a more active civilian role in the decisions made by the Supreme Council.

"Our struggle is far from over," says George Ishak, a liberal political activist who was one of the founders of the Kefaya opposition movement.

"We have the right to disagree on the proposed transitional plan and also to ask for clarification of the details," he continues.

"The law governing the formation of political parties is yet to be addressed, and this is an important issue that we need to mobilise for. Just as important is the parliamentary elections process, which we demand should be held in accordance with a proportional representation party list system." 

On the priority list for Ishak and members of other political movements, both new and old, is to respond to the pressure for early elections during the coming weeks.

"The amendments dictate that the parliamentary elections come first, but they do not say that it should take place immediately," stresses Mostafa Gendy of the Wafd party, "and, accordingly, we should have a say regarding when this should take place."

Many parties share the same views on this subject as the Wafd party, arguing that during the Mubarak era they were deprived of their right to organize, and as such they need time to build their new post-revolution organizations, and to establish wider contact with the people.

But the question remains: Who will be in charge of the transitional period?

Ishak suggests the setting up of "a presidential council", to serve in conjunction with the current government as an interim ruler. He points out however that “this is not the only alternative, and more ideas could be born if we start a societal dialogue around where to go from here," and adds that the current government is said to be planning for such a dialogue.

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