A minority constitution for a minority of extremists

Egyptian president, Muslim Brotherhood conduct illegal campaign that sets the stage for new confrontations.

MOHAMED MORSI, center, prays at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
MOHAMED MORSI, center, prays at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Without bothering to wait for official results, the Muslim Brotherhood hastened to declare itself the victor in the referendum on a constitution solidly grounded in Shari’a and Islamic values.
The Brothers can now boast of having conquered the allegedly “democratic” elections – the last bastion in their steady takeover of all power points in Egypt.
The problem, of course, is that there was nothing democratic about the process. The constitution was drafted in a matter of days by order of President Mohamed Morsi, after six months of endless bickering in the constitutional assembly composed mainly of the Brotherhood and Salafists – in blatant violation of the transitional constitution.
Most non-Islamist members and delegates of the Coptic minority had resigned in protest.
Furthermore, according to the new constitutional declaration issued on December 9, there could be no recourse against the text of the constitution until after the referendum, a somewhat bizarre decision since there is no point in appealing to the courts once the constitution is approved.
According to unofficial results, a mere 32 percent of the electorate took part in the referendum, with 64% approving the constitution and 36% opposing it. Even if these highly dubious returns turn out to be true, it would mean that only 20% of all eligible voters said yes to the new constitution: in absolute numbers, 10.5 million out of the 51 million Egyptians eligible to vote.
This is a far cry from the wide consensus needed to launch the country on its post-revolutionary path. This is a minority constitution for a minority of Islamist extremists, with the overwhelming majority voting against it or staying home.
The National Salvation Front, the main opposition group, refuses to accept these results. Set up to fight the draft constitution, it is led by Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, as well as other political figures.
They all claim that fraud was rampant, with minor and major violations in all voting districts, and that judicial supervision was partial at best since most judges went on strike to protest Morsi’s measures.
These violations included bulletins saying “no” to the constitution were allegedly found thrown in public toilets or in ditches; others were marked “yes” before the vote.
A number of polling stations opened late as officials deliberately worked slowly, in order to discourage voters in districts where the opposition was strong. Roadblocks prevented Coptic villagers – who were obviously going to vote against the Islamic constitution – from reaching polling stations. ElBaradei himself stayed home, having been warned that his voting station was surrounded by young toughs from the Brotherhood.
Needless to say, the Brotherhood conducted a perfectly illegal campaign by using religion as the persuading factor: Religious leaders issued fatwas saying that voting “no” was a grievous sin and an insult to Islam; preachers in mosques warned that Allah would punish those who dared oppose the constitution.
Israel, it was also said, was subverting naïve people and bribing them to vote against the constitution.
And as if this was not enough, the Brotherhood and their supporters were overwhelmingly present inside the polling stations, exerting pressure until the last minute.
They, and they only, had enough people to cover every single station. They could be seen everywhere taking advantage of the fact that many poor Egyptians are illiterate or barely educated and place their trust blindly in Islam.
So far, hundreds of complaints have been lodged with the courts for these and other violations.
Though the constitution was adopted, this was not a victory for democracy or for Egypt, and there was little rejoicing at the victory of political Islam. The country is deeply divided. The National Salvation Front has issued a call to continue the fight against the imposition of Shari’a and for the adoption of a constitution that takes all citizens into consideration.
Protesters were told to remain in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and around the presidential palace to maintain pressure.
Morsi had gambled – and lost. He had thought that once the constitution was accepted he would regain the legitimacy he had lost because of widespread opposition, ongoing demonstrations and the growing number of resignations among his close aides.
At times the sheer number of protesters in the streets was reminiscent of the popular groundswell that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Slogans called for the president’s resignation and spoke out against the domination of the Brotherhood.
Vice President Mahmoud Mekki, a respected member of the judiciary, resigned even before the results of the referendum were announced, saying that “politics were incompatible with the values he defended as a judge.”
Rumor had it that the governor of the central bank had tendered his resignation. The new attorney-general appointed by Morsi resigned, but was “persuaded” to change his mind.
The regime is trying to stay the course throughout the country, and is in for another lengthy period of confrontations.
The Brotherhood will not budge in spite of the opposition; they will not deviate from their avowed aim: imposing Shari’a in Egypt, then in Islamic countries and finally in the whole world.
Their claim of victory at the polls is hotly disputed by a powerful opposition representing a significant number of Egyptians and nearly all the educated elite. Can that opposition remain united? Will it be able to coordinate the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood? Because that fight is far from over. Elections to parliament have to be held two months after the constitution has been approved. Can opposition forces win these elections and demonstrate that the Brotherhood has lost its popular support? Or will the Brotherhood, controlling the country, muster all their supporters to once again frighten and cheat their way to a majority in parliament?
It might not be so easy, with the ever deepening economic crisis and overall lack of security. Poverty and hunger may drive millions of people to the streets.
Furthermore, it seems that at long last the West is beginning to understand that there is nothing “pragmatic” about Morsi’s policies and nothing “moderate” about the Brotherhood. The first to speak openly on the subject was the German foreign minister, who voiced his doubts about the the referendum.
And the long awaited loan from the International Monetary Fund, which Egypt desperately needs, is apparently on hold.
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.