Legitimising coup

A new constitution for Egypt has received the endorsement of 98.1 per cent of those who voted in the referendum.

On the face of it, it does seem that the draft constitution has near unanimous backing. It does not. Just 38.6 per cent of Egypt’s 53 million voters showed up to vote. Besides, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, a key player in Egypt’s politics, boycotted the referendum. This constitution will replace the one drafted by Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first president to be elected. Under the new constitution, Islam remains the state religion but minorities will have some protection. A president can serve two four-year terms and can be impeached by Parliament. The constitution authorises the military to appoint the defence minister for the next eight years.  It forbids the formation of parties on the basis of religion, race, geography, etc.
While the referendum was ostensibly a yes/no vote on the new constitution, it was more about legitimising the military coup in June last year.

This was the first vote since that power grab, and the military will use the solid ‘yes’ received in the referendum as a popular stamp of approval of their ouster of Morsi. More importantly, this referendum is being seen as a prelude to a presidential bid by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in elections expected to be held later this year. Sisi is likely to hold up the referendum result as a vote of confidence in his leadership. With each passing day, Egypt is marching closer to what existed during the iron rule of president Hosni Mubarak. Should General Sisi contest and win elections, it will be a return to the Mubarak era. Egyptians who thronged Cairo’s Tahrir Square for months, braving batons and bullets in order to usher in democracy will be disappointed.
The military has broken the back of the Muslim Brotherhood to some extent.

Thousands of Brotherhood activists are said to have been killed in brutal crackdowns. Most of its senior leaders are either in prison or exile. Several of them, including Morsi, are facing trial and staring at long prison sentences. Clearly the military has learnt no lessons from the past. Decades underground gave the Brotherhood a heroic aura, contributing to its emergence as a powerful political force. That is likely to happen again if the ban on the Brotherhood remains.

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