Analysis: Morsi continues according to plan

Morsi continues to solidify hold on power with clear victory in referendum called to ratify constitution.

December 24, 2012 02:00
3 minute read.
A protester against Egypt's President Mohamed Mors

Egypt Revolution Part II Dec 2012 man with flag - 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi continues to solidify his hold on power with a clear victory in the two-stage constitutional referendum that was called to ratify Egypt’s new constitution. While much of the media coverage of the referendum covered the opposition protests, led by the National Salvation Front coalition, less has been said about how convincing the Muslim Brotherhood victory turned out to be.

According to unofficial results published on the Al-Ahram website, the first round resulted in 57 percent voting “yes” and 43% voting “no.” In the second round that took place this past weekend, 71% voted “yes” and 29% voted “no.” Thus, the final results were 64% yes, and 36% no. While the opposition has claimed some voting abuses, no major irregularities have been reported.

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The crux of the opposition’s argument rests not on the democratic nature of the referendum vote, but on the heavy-handed way in which Morsi pushed through the constitutional drafting process. He did make some compromises in order to sway the public and pacify his opponents, though in the end the Muslim Brotherhood, and its even more hard-core Salafist allies, ran a successful and well-organized campaign. The disunity and disorganization of the opposition gave Morsi an even greater edge in the voting.

Memri reported that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis went all-out in the campaign for the referendum, holding conferences across the country and even canvassing neighborhoods, going door-to-door to drum up support.

While the Brotherhood was busy training 7,000 activists to promote the referendum, the opposition was fighting amongst itself, debating whether to boycott the vote. Furthermore, mosque preachers were recruited as well as government- controlled media to push for a “yes” vote. In addition, a holiday for civil servants was declared for the first round of voting on December 15.

For Morsi and his supporters, the election went according to plan. Despite intermittent protests and violence, a strong majority democratically supported the new constitution. Despite this, it has been reported that clashes have already erupted between the opposition and pro-Morsi forces, but for now it seems that Morsi has been validated and granted a degree of public legitimacy for his increasingly dictatorial actions. As Jerusalem Post columnist Barry Rubin stated, “The victory in the referendum on the constitution is the fourth straight Muslim Brotherhood success – including the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak’s regime with army assistance, the parliamentary election and the presidential election – in the process of taking over Egypt for the long-term and fundamentally transforming it into a radical Islamist state.”

This raises the question: On what grounds can the opposition object since the referendum passed with strong public support? How much the jockeying for power in Egypt fits the narrative of a factional clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and ex-president Mubarak’s supporters remains unclear. But what seems to be continuing is a regional chess match between the Western-backed Sunni Arab governments such as those in the Gulf and in Jordan, and their domestic and international revolutionary Islamist opposition. The Islamist governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey and Iran continue to show various degrees of support for Islamist movements and governments throughout the region, including groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The constant chorus heard from the media of the Western-backed Arab Gulf states helps crystallize the regional battle taking place between the Islamist and status-quo powers. For example, the Saudi-backed Arabic daily Al-sharq Al-awsat continues to criticize Morsi daily for his dictatorial moves. An editorial in Sunday’s paper by Tariq Alhomayed argued that the difference between Morsi and the opposition is “the difference between those who believe in the importance of the state and its institutions, and those who want to swallow the state and distort the performance of its institutions and its basic concepts.”

He went on to conclude that “everyone is aware of the danger of what is happening in Egypt and our region.”

Morsi will continue to solidify his power in Egypt and tread the line pragmatically between going as far as he can while at the same time pulling back when he sees he is threatening his own hold on power. Evidence of this can be seen in how Morsi has actively sought international economic aid in dealing with its dismal economic situation. If, however, the Brotherhood sees that it can continue to advance, overrunning any opposition, it will most likely do so.

This is especially going to be the case when it sees the large “yes” vote in the recently completed constitutional referendum.

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