Egypt: Constitutional referendum

December 2012

Nile river by night Nile River, downtown Cairo

After decades under more or less dictatorial presidents, Egypt is on it's way towards democracy, hopefully. Don't expect it to be a smooth ride. Even though the Egyptians are tolerant, helpful, funny, nice people, they are also to a too great extent illitterate, uneducated and underemployed. Not to say that the Egyptian society lacks basic knowledge of how democratic institutions should function and that the government is ripe with corruption. Above all hovers the military with it's self proclaimed responsibility to step in should the situation spiral out of (their) control.

So the whole concept of power sharing between President, Parliament and Supreme court, Constitutions, even elections, is not fully understood by a majority of Egyptians. (To be fair, that concept is not as known as it should be even among the population in many European countries). In this situation, I don't think any people could handle the task of responsible steering it's country upon it's hazardous voyage towards becoming a peaceful, economically sound and tolerant society. That voyage is too complicated and in such perilous waters, even the best pilots could not sucessfully steer the Egyptian ship into the safest harbour.

Egyptian flags and merchandise at Tahrir Square Flags and merchandise at Tahrir square

Basically, we could at best hope for getting out of the storm and there are some positive factors. Egypt, with close to 85 million inhabitants, longs for stability and peace and a revival of the dormant tourist industry which accounts for 11 billions USD a year and employs 12% of the workforce. There are also an industrial sector and most important, an agriculture industry which has a huge potential for increased efficiency and diversification.

Computer motherboard repair Computer motherboard repair shop

The President Mohammad Morsi and his premier, Hisham Qandil, are both engineers, educated in the USA. Morsi appointed a government in which most ministers are technocrats or former members of the previous, military-appointed government and he quickly, after becoming president in June 2012, clashed with the army, which had tried to award itself legislative powers after the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the newly elected parliament.

Driving along the Nile, Cairo Driving along the Nile

But Morsi has a weak backing. He was launched as a presidential candidate after the Muslim Brotherhood's first choice was rejected by the court, dubbing Morsi "the spare tire".

And, even though most Egyptians highly value Western democratic ideals like free speach, separation between state and religion, equality, they are also highly sceptical towards Western powers, due to our staunch support of Israel's ongoing discrimination, killings and oppression of their fellow Arabs, the Palestinians. US President Obama's vague stance at the beginning of the upraising against Mubarak and later on Secretaryof State Hillary Clinton's support of Mr Suleiman (see Egypt February 2011) hasn't helped convince the people that what we Westerners proclaim is the same as what we really want.

And there is a minority of religious extremists, nurtured by powerty, opression and incarceration under USA's ally Mubarak and jihadist thinking who are more and more openly vocal. Like the Salafists who now are in a working relationsship with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dokki police station, threathened by a Salafist attack Riot police guard Dokki police station from a presumed Salafist attack, Dec 17, 2012

There is a substantial minority of Coptic Christians, since the uprising under threaths from Muslim extremists, and they of course view the new constitition with suspicion. The vague writings with referral to "Sharia" - Islamic Law - and Scholars at AlAzhram who would settle conflicts between Human Rights and Sharia, open up for the latter beeing given more weight and thus reducing the liberal ideas who has influences Egypt since the beginning of the 20th century. Remember, the Women equality movement was very advanced in the 1920's.

A bar serving "Stella" beer, downtown Cairo Stella Bar signStella beerBeer bar, downtown Cairo

The proposed constitution, with all it's flaws were subjected to referendums on the 15th and the 22nd of December. It was a big mistake of the liberal opposition to boycott the Constitutional writing committee, then they had no say and later on, first to refuse to participate in the referendums and two days before, urge the voters to participate and vote "No". The hastily written constitution shold of course been a consensual document , not something the Muslim Brotherhood and it's Salafist allies, pushed through with the power of the majority.

Protests outside Presidential Palace, Cairo outside Presidential Palace, Cairo Protests outside the Presidential Palace, Cairo, 18th Dec 2012

The constitution was approved with 63,8% of the vote, with official figures exactly the same to the last decimal place as the unofficial tally announced by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. But turnout was low, too low, only 32,9%, thereby severely questioning the legitimacy of the referendum.

Protests followed, and will continue. The Muslim Brotherhood, in several decades beeing the sole - more or less quiet opponent - to Egypt's dictatorial president - regarded themselves as the rightly sucessors to power but the huge demonstrations against them, has humiliated them in a way they have never seen before. Will the liberal, secular opposition unite under one leader and be able to peacefully co-steer the Egyptian ship into safe waters? That remains to be seen.

Night on the Nile Night on the Nile

© Lennart Berggren / Axiom Film

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