Creating new perspectives since 2009

No one won by a knockout in Egypt's referendum

January 25, 2014 at 1:55 am

No one knows how the Egyptian opposition makes decisions or exactly what its leaders want. They apparently decided to remain on the streets while participating in the referendum at the weekend while previously, they had decided not to accept the referendum results – whether positive or negative. Nevertheless, the results must have come as a massive shock and have prompted the opposition to question the poll’s integrity even though it was supervised by a completely independent electoral body with full judicial scrutiny.

The voting was followed by live images of millions of Arabs across the region who witnessed Egyptians display an unprecedented degree of enthusiasm and popular involvement in the process. This proved the gravity of the democratic experiment and the faith that the Egyptian people have in it. Moreover, it exposed the opposition’s lack of integrity given the haste with which they questioned the results.

Looking at the level of support for President Morsi in the ten provinces where the referendum has already been held, it is clear that he can quite reasonably expect to obtain an overall support of about 70 per cent for his proposals. Significantly, during the first round of the presidential elections, Morsi was not voted first in eight of these ten provinces. That round was regarded as the most indicative of the true voting weight of the political forces. Even in the second round of the presidential elections, five of these provinces voted Morsi second.

In so far as his opponents wanted to make this referendum a decider on his legitimacy, the results of the first round show that he made remarkable progress; greater than the progress he made during the second round of the presidential elections. Suffice to say, all presidential candidates stood against him on this occasion.

Comparing the current results to those of the second round of the presidential elections, there have been significant increases – in Aswan, support for Morsi rose by 24 per cent; in Asyut by 14 per cent; Al Duqhliya saw an 11 per cent ncrease; Gharbyyah increased by 10 per cent; North Sinai by 16 per cent; East Province by 20 per cent; Souhag by 20 per cent; and South Sinai by 14 per cent. The only decreases recorded were in Cairo and Alexandria where support fell by 1 per cent in both cases. In fact only two provinces out of ten voted ‘no’, while in the presidential elections, during the second round, five of these provinces preferred Shafeeq over Morsi.

Meanwhile, in 12 of the 17 provinces where the referendum is still to be completed, Morsi was voted first during the first round of the presidential elections confirming the accuracy of the polls which suggest the proposed constitution will secure about 70 per cent support. The opposition has much less of a chance in the second round which is what has prompted it to question the results and make allegations of fraud. No one in their right mind believes this given the high levels of judicial presence at the polling stations, as well as the monitoring by the free media and public.

In the interim, before the referendum is completed and the final results are known, it would serve the opposition to learn from experience around the world regarding approval levels on national issues. In June 2012, the Irish adopted the European fiscal treaty following a referendum with a majority vote of only 60.3 per cent in favour. The French constitution of 1946 was approved with only 53 per cent of the vote and 31 per cent boycotting the referendum. Also in France, the 1958 constitution was approved with only 63 per cent and 20 per cent boycotting the vote. Go back as far as the 1787 American constitution and you will find that 30 per cent of the members withdrew from the constituent assembly in protest against articles of the proposed draft. Despite this, the remaining 70 per cent of members produced a constitution which was subsequently subject to amendments. In Brazil, the 1988 constitution has been amended 70 times in the last 24 years. Likewise, South Africa’s 1996 constitution has been amended 16 times in 16 years.

Has the time not come for the Egyptian people to get some respite and complete their democratic process? According to Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, an old adversary of the Muslim Brotherhood, this referendum was about the Muslim Brotherhood and not the constitution. Given that the majority of people voted ‘yes’, if we accept Heikal’s argument, then the majority are in support of the Brotherhood – why should it not be allowed the opportunity to govern? No one has ever won by a knockout blow. In the next election, perhaps the opposition will win the majority of votes which would allow them to modify the constitution. Why don’t they wait and see? It would be a mistake for them to think they would win by a knockout. Similarly, the Brotherhood would be wrong to think the opposite.

*Yasser Ali Abu Hilalah is the bureau chief of Al Jazeera’s office Amman, Jordan

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.