Brotherhoold pushes for constitution vote

The Brotherhood has adopted a ‘winner-take-all’ approach and seeks to dictate terms to rivals.

As Egypt teeters on the brink of political conflict and economic disaster, the country’s citizens are set to return to the polls on Saturday to vote in a referendum on a new constitution drafted by a body dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and radical fundamentalist allies.

Since 30-year President Hosni Mubarak was toppled by people’s power in February 2011, Egyptians have cast ballots more than half a dozen times for constitutional amendments, the two houses of parliament and president. Sixty days after the second referendum, there will be new parliamentary elections. Egyptians suffer from a surfeit of mechanisms of democracy without securing substance.

Opponents of the draft constitution contend it does not reflect the aspirations of the Egyptian people or address their economic and social needs, fails to guarantee the rights of women and minorities, and places the military beyond judicial and legislative review. Consequently, the opposition has called for the referendum to be delayed or cancelled until consensus has been reached on a constitution that will satisfy all the country’s political tendencies.

Neutral monitors

Last Wednesday, the National Salvation Front, the main opposition coalition grouping liberal and leftist parties, formally called on supporters to vote no if polling takes place on a single day and is supervised by the judiciary and observed by neutral monitors. If these conditions are not met, the Front will urge boycott in an effort to deprive the referendum of legitimacy.

President Mohamed Morsi, whose roots are in the Brotherhood, responded to the Front’s challenge by decreeing that the referendum would take place on the 15th and 22nd, rather than, as originally scheduled on the 15th.

The opposition’s initial call for cancellation or postpone-ment of the referendum was never an option for the Brotherhood and Morsi. Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood remained a semi-clandestine socio-religious outreach movement until Mubarak’s ouster.

Once the Brotherhood emerged from the political shadows, the well-organised movement won parliamentary and presidential elections, staged a political coup against the military, which had taken power, and prepared to impose a constitution written to suit its purposes.

The Brotherhood’s man, Morsi, deepened fears of a Brotherhood power grab when on November 22, he issued a decree giving himself sweeping authorities. He followed up this surprise move by ordering the constituent assembly - from which secular figures had withdrawn in protest against fundamentalist dictation - to complete drafting of the constitution within days so it could be submitted to referendum on the 15th.

Faced with a storm of protest, Morsi offered to postpone the vote, then changed his mind, and after tens of thousands of Egyptians demonstrated against his actions, ceded most of the powers he had grabbed.

He also imposed and then cancelled fresh taxes demanded by the International Monetary Fund as the price of a $4.8 billion loan to bolster Egypt's faltering economy. The exactions would have hit Morsi's poor constituents as well as the wealthy and alienate his supporters ahead of the referendum. Seven advisers and the head of the committee conducting the referendum resigned.

As Egypt was under military rule from 1952-2012, neither the ruling Brotherhood nor its secular rivals has experience in democratic politics. The Brotherhood has adopted a “winner-take-all” approach and seeks to dictate terms to rivals and the Egyptian people, both of whom are revolting and intend to carry on until power-sharing is achieved.

Egypt's divided and constantly disputing liberal, leftist, moderately fundamentalist, and frankly rightist opposition factions are, like Morsi, learning on the job. For months, they have tried to come together and put forward a coherent plan of action.

The result is the National Salvation Front, led by Nobel laureate Mohamed El-Baradei, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. But these dithering leaders have decided to "follow the lead of the street," revolutionary film maker and activist Amal Ramsis said. 

Liberal analyst Youssef Zaki predicted the Brotherhood will “win the battle for the constitution, elect a new parliament, and rule” for some time. But it will, eventually, lose power because the movement "does not have a vision or a programme" which could meet popular demands for social and economic justice, education, and employment.

This means Egypt is set to suffer protracted turmoil that could prompt the military to seize control once again. Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic Christian weekly, Watani, stated, “The situation is very critical and volatile.  We wake up every day thinking we could be in a state of civil war.”

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