A slight majority of Egyptians have voted in favor of a new constitution shaped by Islamists, in the first round of voting in a two-stage referendum that will be completed next week. Widely accepted estimates hold that about 56 percent of those voting were in favor of the new constitution, evincing the degree of divide in the country and indicating that Egypt is likely to face an increasingly rocky period ahead.
Experts said the very close vote in Egypt is likely to increase the state of
polarization in the country and indicates the extent to which President Mohammed
Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood will face continuing questions as to the
legitimacy of their steps.
“The constitution is a disaster, for human
rights, for social justice, for separation of powers, for separation of church
and state, for government oversight. Of course things would change if this
passes – for the worse,” says Mohamed El Dahshan, a writer and economist in
Nathan Brown, a George Washington University expert in
democratization, constitutionalism, and the rule of law in the Arab world said
the degree of change ahead will depend on how the new constitution is
implemented and by whom.
“This 2012 constitution, if it passes, will be
different from the 1971 constitution in several ways. It will be politically
more democratic and gives stronger protection to some rights. But it also tilts
in an Islamic direction,” he said. “Most of all, the meanings of its provisions
will depend on political practice, and especially on electoral outcomes... and
how much independent state institutions – military and judiciary – begin to
reflect the rise of the Islamists.”
“Whatever effect it has in the
Islamizing direction may be slow, but there is potential for a fairly
conservative and religious turn if Islamists keep wining elections,” he added.
“So as much as any article in the text, the real question many be whether
non-Islamist forces are realizing success in building constituencies that will
turn out by the millions at the polls.
They’ve had success mobilizing
hundreds of thousands in the streets, but that won’t be enough in the new
Washington, meanwhile, has been sitting back and
watching, taking a cool tack towards Morsi and his latest moves, but not wanting
to risk interference.
“I think we should take the possibility of
evolutionary change a bit more seriously,” Brown said. “Over the long run, it is
clear that Egyptian policy will change. Political – as opposed to security –
contacts between Egypt and Israel have already collapsed.
leaders have begun to talk more of the Camp David agreements rather than just
the treaty itself, implying a linkage of bilateral relations to the Palestinian
cause. And there are some signs the Egyptian regime takes Palestinian
reconciliation much more seriously. I do not think we know exactly how Egyptian
policy will evolve because the Egyptians themselves don’t yet know. I don’t see
any signs the US has come to terms with this change; so far they seem to have
reacted only with relief and with buying time.”
Mordechai Kedar, a
Bar-Ilan University professor who focuses on Islamic politics, predicted that
the Muslim Brotherhood will have a difficult time claiming a true mandate for
any overt Islamicization of Egyptian law. The more than 40 % of Egyptians who
apparently voted against the constitution in the first stage of the referendum
will continue to challenge the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s moves –
and the nature of the vote itself.
“Those who oppose the Muslim
Brotherhood already claim that the referendum’s results are forged, and they
will keep saying it in the future in order to undermine its legitimacy,” Kedar
“In any case, the official difference between ‘no’ and ‘yes’ will
apparently be very little – my estimate is around 5 % – and such a little
difference will give the losing side the ability to say that the winning side
cannot ignore the losing one. All these reasons might lead Egypt to a
While the presumed passage constitution may not
have any official impact on Israeli-Egyptian relations, it shows a general
direction which is not likely to bode well for ties between Jerusalem and
“As far as I’ve seen, the constitution does not relate to this
issue in particular, but surely the Islamic spirit will have influence on
relations with Israel, and not in a good direction,” he added.
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