The majority of the people approved the constitutional amendments in the first referendum in Egypt after the 25 January Revolution that toppled the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The number of participating voters was unprecedented in Egyptian political life, whereby 18.7 million Egyptians went to the polls. Some 77 per cent of them approved the amendments and 23 per cent said No. The latter wanted a new constitution to be immediately drafted to reflect the goals and general sentiments of the revolution, instead of amending the current 1971 Constitution, which according to those who voted No was annulled by the Egyptian people’s revolution.
Those who supported the amendments, however, believed that the changes dissected the old constitution and will allow for the peaceful transfer of power to civilians based on the choice of the people through the ballot box. Public debate will now move on to the next step of implementing the remaining articles in the constitutional declaration made by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on 12 February. This is an action plan to manage the interim period, which the army estimated at six months and that may extend briefly depending on circumstances. According to the declaration, there are four remaining steps that need to be implemented.
First, amending the laws pertaining to the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, and the law regulating political rights, the Political Parties Law, and others related to presidential and legislative elections. Second, holding elections for the People’s Assembly and Shura Council within three months. Third, holding presidential elections three months or less after that. Fourth, handing over power to elected civilians and returning the armed forces to their barracks.
It is obvious that the clarity and precision of the plan to transition to normal civilian life was critical in convincing those supporting the amendments to say yes. On the other hand, the ambiguity of what would happen next if the amendments were rejected, as promoted by some politicians, artists and media people, was also vital in the decision to not enter an uncertain and undefined phase.
For example, a proposal put forward as a suitable alternative suggested forming a presidential council composed of five political and economic representatives, including one from the military, to rule for two years while the army continues its presence on the street and as the guarantor of the entire political process. This would give all revolutionary forces time to organise themselves through strong popular political parties that could contest elections, win a majority, and continue achieving the constitutional and institutional goals of the revolution.
But this proposal was too complex for the majority and would put the country in a long interim period that would negatively affect everything, including national security, which is currently under threat from every direction. It would also open the door for another form of dictatorship by the men appointed to the presidential council without license from the people. It would also mean that the people who have longed to be part of the decision making process, but were prevented under the old regime, would have to postpone this aspiration and right for another two years without any guarantees that their complete political rights would be delivered by the presidential council. Accordingly, the sense of the people was to say no to these ambiguous ideas by approving a clear and definitive action plan.
The choice that was given to the Egyptians as between a revolution which achieves its goals according to an orderly and clear action plan, and a revolution that moves along an ambiguous path that delays the rights of Egyptians for some time. Egyptians are said to lean towards stability and clarity of goals instead of taking gambles and venturing into the unknown. Hence, they decided to approve the amendments because they were clear about the route of peaceful political transformation and give the people the right to choose among alternatives.
The significance of the results and their meaning are twofold. First, the campaign rejecting the amendments led by political parties, the 25 January Revolution Coalition, and almost all the media, including what is known as state-owned, did not influence the conviction of Egyptians — especially the middle class. This proves that Egyptians cannot be tricked easily, even if they appear otherwise.
Second, it demonstrated the role of organised political and religious forces in mobilising their supporters to vote “Yes” on the amendments, most dominantly the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis and the new Wasat Party. Reports about the remnants of the National Democratic Party (NDP) were nothing more than political fear mongering. The majority of Egyptians realised that aversion to the NDP or the Brotherhood was no longer a factor, or at least not to the extent that these fear mongers claimed.
The party that was ubiquitous in the previous era was no longer after 25 January, after its props of power and arrogance fell — whether the police who served the interests of the party and its leading figures, or governors who lost their influence now that Mubarak and his son were no longer atop the power pyramid, or local governments that invested all their capacities to serve NDP candidates out of tradition or to curry favour with party leaders.
What is significant here are the methods used by the Brotherhood and Salafis to conspicuously mobilise the people, and that were countered by the Coptic Church mobilising Christians to vote no because the amendments, as they understand it, would allow Islamists — despite their differences — to win in the next parliament. This could give a religious taint to the new state and eliminate its existing and aspired civic character.
The forces of revolution became divided amongst themselves over the amendments; some supported, but the majority rejected them. There are also many political players in the arena that could cause a problem for political and party organisation to embody the aspirations of these rising powers.
This dilemma requires quick self-organisation through an internal dialogue between youth forces, but signs indicate the opposite. Smaller groups are in heated competition and squandered efforts are prevalent, which gives rise to questions about the nature of political equations that could arise if the status quo continues until the next parliamentary elections. The fear is that the Salafis and political Islamist groups would benefit the most from these divisions, although they themselves are in discord over divergent and contradictory legislative and political interpretations.
The configuration of the next parliament will be divided in such a way that would prevent the formation of a sustainable government with a definitive action plan. Accordingly, Egypt’s economy will continue to deteriorate further after three months of severe losses, unless political and constitutional issues are resolved with utmost transparency and clarity and the army returns to its barracks as soon as possible.