Egypt’s constitutional referendum

22 March 2011

After 25th January 2011, 19th March could become an historical date to remember for Egyptians. For the first time after Mubarak's fall, as matter of fact for the first time in modern history, Egyptians have the opportunity to give their opinion on whether to vote "Yes" and amend their constitution, or to vote "No" and abolish it in favour of a completely new one.

On 19th March from 8 am to 7 pm, up to 45 million citizens may vote in the referendum in more than 54,000 polling stations across Egypt, to be monitored by 17,000 election monitors. Voters 18 years of age or older will be allowed to cast their ballots using just their National ID cards.

Egypt's constitution was suspended by the Supreme Military Council that took power after mass protests forced President Hosni Mubarak from office on February 11th .
The amendments
The Constitutional amendments cap a president's time in office to eight years, two-four-year terms, and demand he appoints a vice president within 60 days of taking office. They also enforce judicial supervision of elections, stipulate parliament must approve any state of emergency, cancels the president's right to use military courts and install new criteria for presidential candidates, including a rule that they must over 40 years old and not be married to a non-Egyptian
If yes, elections will take place in late September. Should they reject the amendments; the Military Council will immediately issue a constitutional decree as a temporary charter until parliamentary and presidential polls. Elections would be pushed to December or early 2012 and the the army would remain in power until elections are held.
The No campaign
Pro-democracy youth activists who led the Lotus Revolution have called for a "No" vote, with several activists touring cities across country to mobilise mass rejection. Protest groups like Kefaya, April Sixth, the coalition for January 25 Revolution have called for a united front to resist the referendum which they say in a group statement was "…an attempt to abort revolution". Reformists and politicians running for the presidency have unanimously rejected the constitutional amendments. Many political parties of the opposition reject the referendum including the leftist Tagammu Party, Ghad Party, and the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party.
The Democratic Front Party denounced the referendum and said it threatens the "ambitions of the people for a new constitution and their hopes for a democratic system where freedom and social justice reign supreme," according to the party statement.
The liberal nationalist Wafd party has also rejected the amendments saying that the proposed amendments do not limit the powers of the president and that is something they highly fear. But the New National Democratic Party, formerly Mubarak's ruling party, backed the amendments:
The Yes campaign
The Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest organised opposition force in Egypt, has backed the amendments, saying the country needed to start functioning again to prevent army rule from dragging on too long. Opposition forces have criticised the Islamist group's position, saying that as the only force able to rally support quickly, the Brotherhood would benefit from a quick election at the expense of other weak parties. Also the Salafists, long oppressed under Mubarak rule, call on citizens to vote "yes" on Saturday's referendum.
Copts who make up almost 10 percent of Egypt's population have called for the scrapping of Article 2, which says Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence the main source of legislation. But there is no hint at the article in the amendments proposed in the referendum.
The prospects for democracy
Having a look at the Facebook pages of young Egyptians there is a feeling of a people who finally wants to create its fate. Tomorrow it is not only the results that will be interesting, but also the percentage of people who went to the polls. If "No" wins, Egypt will have taken a very big step towards democracy, but whatever the result will be the percentage of voters will tell us whether Egyptians finally feel true and responsible citizens. This morning more than 2,000 people were standing in an orderly line waiting to vote in the well-off neighbourhood of Zamalek, as the BBC reports, and this makes me very positive about the outcome of the Lotus Revolution.