Alastair Beach
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on : Friday, 14 Dec, 2012
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Another Turning Point in Egypt


Egypt's imminent constitutional referendum exposes the political divisions in the country, and so will the results

An Egyptian activist from the Sixth of April Movement prepares a banner to campaign against a new draft constitution and call Egyptians to vote "No" in the upcoming referendum in Cairo on 13 December 2012. A divided Egypt is being called to vote in a referendum on a new constitution that the secular opposition fears will be used by President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood to usher in Islamist interpretation of laws. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA        (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

An Egyptian activist from the 6th of April Movement prepares a banner to campaign against a new draft constitution and call Egyptians to vote “No” in the referendum in Cairo on 13 December 2012 (Source: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sameh Makram Ebeid is a man who will not take ‘yes’ for an answer. As a leading member of the Dostour Party—the political grouping established by Nobel laureate Mohamed Al-Baradei—he says that anything but a rejection of Egypt’s new constitution during tomorrow’s referendum will be unacceptable.

Not that he has any doubts about the result. “It will be a ‘no’ vote for sure,” he said during an interview for Egypt Unwrapped.

Not everyone shares his certainty. One friend, who works for a human rights NGO here, said she thought such confidence was completely divorced from reality. Considering the organisational clout of Egypt’s Islamists—the vast majority of whom will vote ‘yes’ to the constitution—you can see her point. This will be no cakewalk for ‘no’ camp.

But Sameh Makram Ebeid is unbowed. The only way supporters of the new national charter will win, he says, is if there is widespread fraud. And he is not just thinking about fraud in the conventional sense. “It won’t only be fraud at the ballot box,” he says. “All the preachers on Friday are going to be promising people heaven and peace on Earth if the people vote yes. . . All the sheikhs in tens of thousands of mosques are going to be screaming, ‘Yes, yes yes!’”

This is perhaps the crux of the matter: the question of who can claim the legitimacy of Egypt’s revolution. Many among Egypt’s opposition reject not just the constitution, but the entire process under which it was drafted. That process was managed by an Islamist-dominated assembly that was nominated by the Egyptian parliament.

Enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood acknowledge that Islamists won the elections to the People’s Assembly by a landslide last year, but they argue that this result does not give them the right to shape a constitution in religious terms which could have repercussions for many years—especially when that parliament was elected under such a fragile democracy. Others say that a democracy informed by the thinking of Egypt’s preachers is no democracy at all.

Naturally enough, the Brotherhood takes a different view, believing the majority it and its Islamist allies won in Parliament was a mandate to steer the transitional process in the direction it sees fit.

Yesterday Mohamed Al-Baradei made a last-ditch appeal for Mr Morsi to suspend tomorrow’s vote. He told Egypt’s president to “fear God,” and said that this was a final chance to avert “civil war.” The opposition has declared that if the constitution is passed, they will resort to the only real leverage they have left—the Egyptian street. It looks like there will be no stability any time soon for Egypt’s troubled transition.

Alastair Beach

Alastair Beach

Alastair Beach is a freelance reporter based in Cairo who has worked for a variety of publications, including the Independent, the Sunday Telegraph and Spectator. He was previously based in Syria.

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