The sight of heavily armed troops backed by tanks and helicopters is not very conducive to a democratic vote. That, however, is not the point. The military wants to go through the exercise of holding a “vote” on the referendum to create the impression of people's participation so that it can continue to rule with an iron fist.
Tuesday January 14, 2014, 05:07 EST
Egyptian troops and other security personnel are out in massive numbers in what is supposed to be a “free” and “fair” referendum on the country’s newly drafted constitution. The people’s turnout so far, however, is low on the first day of the two-day referendum (January 14-15).
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, a former general has admitted that 350,000 security personnel backed by tanks and helicopters have been deployed and he has warned that he will come down hard on anyone trying to disrupt the vote.
“The resolve of the police will not falter until we realize the will of the sons of Egypt,” Ibrahim said, adding, “Maximum force and firmness will be used to deal with any attempt to spoil this feast. We will not show leniency toward any action that touches the will of the Egyptian people.”
The military-backed regime finds itself in a dilemma. It wants a huge turnout but the presence of so many troops with guns intimidates people. The regime knows that the entire exercise is a huge farce but it must go through it to create the impression that the people have endorsed the controversial constitution.
The military-appointed Interim Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi has called the referendum the “most critical moment” for Egypt. General Abdel Fattah Sisi, the real power wielder as army chief and defence minister urged soldiers to “work hard” after visiting a polling station in Cairo.
It was not clear what Sisi, who is an arch Zionist, meant. Observers believe that a large turnout, or at least one in which people can be shown on television to be lining up to vote, would give him endorsement for his ambition to run as president.
For weeks, opportunistic groups have been issuing endorsements on state-run television. Such endorsements are tickets to riches since the regime dispenses favors.
With the first democratically elected president, Mohamed Mursi locked up in jail and facing a raft of charges including murder and treason, and thousands of members of the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon in prison, the claim that the referendum is free and fair is completely false.
The Strong Egypt Party, founded by former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, is also boycotting the referendum following arrest of many of its members during a protest. He said a vicious government-sponsored campaign is under way to get the constitution approved.
A number of youth groups that were involved in the campaign against the former dictator Hosni Mubarak have also called for a boycott.
The new “constitution” was drafted by a 50-member committee that was hand picked by the military. It was headed by Amr Moussa who had served as foreign minister in the Mubarak regime.
Interestingly, while Egypt is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, the new constitution bans religious-based parties. This is a blatant attempt to deny parties like the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon to participate in the political process.
Amr Moussa candidly admitted: “There is no 100% in democracy.” True, but does it have to be so blatantly manipulated to make the constitution tailor-made to serve the interests of the military?
There is a provision that allows civilians to be tried in military courts, and it gives the military control over the appointment of the defence minister for the next eight years. The military budget is beyond civilian oversight.
The entire exercise is meant to provide a façade of “legitimacy” to the military led by Sisi to claim it has the support of the Egyptian people.
The referendum will not solve Egypt’s problems that are much more fundamental and structural. As long as the military continues to dominate the political scene, there will be no peace in Egypt.