Egyptian implications of an enforced constitution


What will the activists in Tahrir Square demand next, once the constitution is passed? Is it expected that they will simply get up and leave after having been at Tahrir Square for almost one month?

Dina El Sharnouby
17 December 2012

The very preliminary results of the Constitutional Referendum showed 43% voting against it and 57% for it. It is no surprise that over 50% voted against the Constitution in Cairo and Alexandria but these results have significant political implications. After much debate around what percentage of votes for the constitution would constitute an absolute majority, eventually is seems the Egyptian constitution will be passed if it secures 50% plus one vote. The strong argument that either over 65% or two thirds of the population needed to vote for the constitution for it to pass was ignored. So many Egyptians now assume that the constitution will be secured, but what implications does this outcome have on the Egyptian streets?

Belal Fadl, a political activist and writer, stated openly in an interview on ON TV that a constitution can never be enforced on its people. This rather bold statement has a lot of resonance at the moment if you take in the political scene in Egypt. The enforcement of voting on a constitution in a process of formation hotly contested by the opposition, one which bypasses a fulsome national dialogue, and one which is frankly imposed on the population, carries much tension in its wake.

Since the fall of the Mubarak regime, the opposition to those in power have demonstrated little tolerance for elections results that prove to have involved a measure of enforcement in some form, or some obvious injustice. The Mohamed Mahmoud clashes in November 2011, for example, started with the opposition disagreeing with the rights the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces wanted to impose on the constitution in relation to securing their economic gains and maintaining secrecy about their budgets. Though a minority of the 80 million Egyptians stood on Mohamed Mahmoud, once some died, the clashes did not end until acting President Sharaf left his post and the amendments were put on hold. An active minority that is willing to die for a cause have also been successful in getting their demands included in the process of change. If my reading of the political scene is at all accurate, then the enforced passing of this constitution could be disastrous.

In contrast to all the previous protests that have taken place in Egypt against the ruling regimes from President Mubarak to the SCAF, the opposition is no longer taking to the streets against institutions such as the SCAF or the police force. The devastating events two weeks ago surrounding the presidency have triggered escalating clashes and street fights between Islamists and the liberals who want a secular state. Each group of citizens has a passionate cause to fight for, some supporting President Morsi’s actions which others diametrically oppose. A possibility that was not present until recently, of civilians fighting each other, could lead to dramatic implications if the coming period of ideological division is not managed wisely. A ‘yes’ vote on the constitution will not automatically bring stability to the country as many believe. The exclusion of activists who could be the minority but loud on the streets and willing to die for their cause are an important sector in any society. They need to be involved in some form. What will the activists in Tahrir Square demand next, once the constitution is passed? Is it expected that they will simply get up and leave after having been at Tahrir Square for almost one month?

A Constitution cannot be enforced. It is a guidebook that will regulate the living conditions of the population at large. The threshold for tolerance among the population at large is stretched to its limit. Many frustrated Egyptians especially from the lower middle class have already suffered under the Mubarak regime, and are fed up with the uncertainties and instability of the current situation. The opposition is truly wedded to their demands for a more inclusive process of socio-political change. They  do not look likely to compromise on that soon. Islamists on the other hand seem to have forgotten what they are calling for, other than knee-jerk support for President Morsi in opposition to the liberals. They seem quite content to enforce their powers including showing their muscle on the streets if necessary.

The decision to pass a constitution which secures 50% of the electorate plus one vote, ignoring the demands and activism of an active opposition, could prove to be a terrible mistake in the longer term. I strongly hope that President Morsi will soon find the means for productive dialogue with the opposition which leads to some form of political inclusion. Should the government, with the help of the Islamists, as their main active supporters, simply assume that the Sanadeeq, the ballot boxes, have spoken for the people, seizing this as an opportunity for propagating their own ideologies while taking for granted the people’s support - Egypt will be consigned to a new era of suffering led by blindness and ignorance.  

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