The constitutional referendum in Egypt is not meant to give the people their rights. It merely entrenches the military's grip on the political scene. It opens the way for General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the coup-maker, who overthrew a democratically elected last July, to assume direct power. The Egyptian military is back in power with all guns blazing.
Saturday January 18, 2014, 12:07 EST
Three days after the constitutional referendum in Egypt, the Election Committee announced a 38.6 percent turnout. In announcing the result, the Election Committee representative went into convoluted details to prove that it was a transparent process.
It was claimed that out of 53.5 million eligible voters, 20.5 million or 38.6 percent turned out to vote. Of these, 19.5 million (98.1 percent) voted “Yes” and 381,341 (1.9 percent) voted “No.” The rest of the ballots were spoiled.
The Ikhwan al-Muslimoon (Muslim Brotherhood), the only organized political party in the country that had called for a boycott and even protested against the vote calling it illegal, said the turnout was less than 15 percent.
On the first day of the vote on January 14, there were protests in many parts of Egypt against the vote that resulted in at least 10 persons being killed and hundreds injured or detained. Despite such brutality, the military-backed regime described the exercise as a “peaceful” vote.
Television footage showed small numbers turning out for the vote and of those that did, the vast majority was made up of the elderly. The youth that make up 60 percent of Egypt’s population were conspicuously absent.
The consequence of this exercise in which the military-backed regime has claimed a turnout higher than had been the case in the earlier constitutional referendum in 2012 under the first elected president, now ousted, Mohamed Mursi, give the military the pretext to claim legitimacy. That constitution garnered 32.9 percent of the vote.
The figures are important because the Egyptian military is keen to show that it has greater support for its referendum than did Mursi. This is likely to make the military more, not less intransigent and reduces the chances of a political compromise. The Ikhwan— the only organized political party in Egypt with plurality of support—has been declared a “terrorist” organization and therefore barred from politics.
Far from the referendum being a process that has set Egypt on the path to democracy, it will stifle political dissent even further. General Abdel Fattah Sisi, the military strongman, has announced that he is considering a run for the president. Amr Moussa, the long-time foreign minister in the Mubarak dictatorship, immediately announced that he would support Sisi’s candidacy.
Sisi had announced during the referendum that if the turnout is high, this would mean the people’s approval of his leadership and he would seek the presidency. Military spokesperson, Colonel Ahmed Ali, said the result “confirms that Egyptians are the first free population in recorded history.” Such an outrageous claim can only be made in a country like Egypt where the military controls virtually every facet of life. The military controls 40 percent of the economy.
The badly mangled constitution—the previous constitution was used as a starting document but then drastically changed—entrenches the military as the only power in Egypt. Henceforth, it will act above the law. It always has but the constitution provides a legal veneer to what is raw military dictatorship.
It must be borne in mind that the Ikhwan had won five consecutive elections in 2012 and 2013. Presumably, the military is now saying that all that was not relevant.
After the referendum vote, the US announced restoration of the $1.5 billion in US military aid that had been frozen in October, following the military’s crackdown on protesters. Perhaps, that is all that is needed by dictators to be eligible for US largesse.
Egypt today is not only a deeply divided society but also in dire economic straits. Unemployment is rising and people want some peace and stability to resume normal life.
Unfortunately, normalcy may be hard to come by as the military goes about tightening its grip even more on the political scene and using a sledgehammer against all dissenters.