Egypt's Road to Democracy: A Timeline to the December 16 Referendum Vote

By Megan Sehr on December 17, 2012
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According to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the first round of voting on the controversial draft constitution has resulted in a narrow lead for supporters of the referendum.  Based on unofficial tallies, the results reveal that 56.5 percent of Egyptian voters said ‘yes’ to the document while 43 percent voted ‘no.’

The weeks leading up to this referendum vote have been rife with conflict.  It seemed that President Mohamed Morsi was a pragmatic leader after he brokered a ceasefire in the Hamas-Israel conflict and secured a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan.  However, protests broke out in Egypt when Morsi issued a presidential decree stating that he could do anything “to protect the country and the goals of the revolution” and proclaiming his decisions “final and binding and cannot be appealed in any way or to any entity.”

Protestors at an anti-Morsi rally in Cairo, Egypt. Photograph by Gigi Ibrahim at Flickr.com

Shortly after the declaration, Morsi reemphasized his dedication to democracy in an interview with Time, saying, “I’m very keen on having true freedom of expression.  True freedom of faith.  And free practice of religious faith.  I am keen and I will always be keen on the transfer of power.  My chief responsibility is to maintain the national ship to go through this transitional period…We are keen in Egypt and I am personally keen right now on maintaining freedom, democracy, justice and social justice.  The Muslim Brothers do not say anything different from that.”

The final draft of Egypt’s proposed constitution was completed on Nov. 29, sparking more outcries from opposition groups and raising serious questions about the future of a democratic Egypt.  Although the constitution places limits on the government, it’s ambiguous on issues such as women’s rights, religious freedom, and freedom of the press.

On gender equality, the preamble of the draft promises that, “Equality and equal opportunities are established for all citizens, men and women…”  Yet, Article 10 of the constitution emphasizes preserving “the genuine character of the Egyptian family,” which has caused many individuals in the opposition to worry that women will be forced to maintain traditional societal roles.

The draft constitution does promote religious freedom, but it only references freedom of religion for monotheistic religions (the Abrahamic religions).  According to Isobel Coleman at The Atlantic, the article limits religious freedom more than the 1971 constitution, which did not restrict religious freedom at all.

The draft constitution fails to protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press, granting the government an influence in editorial control and limiting press freedom “in accordance with the ‘requirements of national security’ and ‘the basic principles of the State and society’” (Article 48).

The constitution was drafted hurriedly by a partisan Constituent Assembly.  Non-Islamist groups, such as the National Salvation Front, withdrew in protest.  Morsi quickly alienated the groups he had promised to protect and represent, like Christians, women, the youth, and non-Islamists, remaining firmly with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This week’s vote on the draft constitution was plagued by mistrust.  Rights activists and opponents to the constitution said that officials suppressed the votes of the opposition, mostly women and Christians.  In Egypt’s most populated cities, Alexandria and Cairo, a significant majority of citizens voted ‘no’ against the new constitution.  Additionally, turnout for the referendum vote was a low 32 percent.

The second round of voting in 17 of Egypt’s provinces is scheduled to take place on Dec. 22.  The opposition National Salvation Front has stated that they do not accept unofficial results, and that they are waiting for the final tally after the second round of voting.

Egypt has been caught in political chaos and turmoil since its revolution overthrew Hosni Mubarak two years ago.  The referendum vote will alter the course of a country afflicted by rising commodity prices, high unemployment, and major security concerns.  It will change the direction of a country desperately trying to find its footing in its long and tumultuous fight for democracy.

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Megan Sehr is a sophomore at the University of Denver, and she is majoring in International Studies and Journalism Studies with minors in History and Hebrew. She wants to go into international journalism, and is interested in Middle Eastern politics and culture. She loves writing, reading, poetry, Mad Men, and good discussions.

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