On Saturday, I voted “no” in the Egyptian constitutional referendum. While waiting my turn at the Egyptian embassy, a man sat down next to me and broke into conversation, asking after my vote. I said I would rather keep it to myself. He was less reticent; he said he would vote “yes.” The man talked effusively about how it did not matter whether we agreed or disagreed, what mattered was that we cast our ballots and respected one another, just like people do in consolidated democracies. My instant reaction to him was, “But this is different—there was blood!”
If history teaches us anything, it is that constitutions and democracies are built on sacrifices, and often bloodshed. When it comes to the Egyptian referendum on the new constitution, this historical process has become a very personal one. In recent clashes outside the presidential palace, Abd Al-Ghany Al-Sayed, a close friend of mine, was severely beaten while demonstrating against President Morsi’s planned referendum.
Yet my rejection of the draft referendum was not intended as revenge on behalf of my aggrieved friends. Objectivity at such a historical juncture is a luxury; nonetheless, putting personal involvement aside I believe there are many valid reasons to refuse the draft constitution. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, have described at length how the document falls far short of the expectations of the revolutionaries. The constitution fails to guarantee women’s rights, children’s rights, minority rights, or religious, economic, and social rights.
The very process of writing the constitution was severely flawed. The constitutional assembly was widely boycotted, and was not representative of all the different sectors of Egypt’s diverse society. The assembly was dominated by the conservative Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. The Christian church has withdrawn from the process.
In the beginning, the assembly included seven women, out of one hundred members. The number of women in the assembly has dwindled as they walked out in protest against a draft constitution that did not live up to the expectations of the Egyptian people. These are just a few of the reasons why some Egyptians are standing up against the draft constitution.
The ballot had a “yes” and a “no” box; you just needed to tick one. It seems so simple. Yet the vote means so much more than that. Yes, the vote determines the constitution, but it is also about the fight for freedoms, rights, and social justice. It is about the continuing struggle against all forms of dictatorship and oppression. Our votes are about deciding a revolution that many sacrificed their lives for. This time it is not about high politics, it is about our lives. Democracy is messy, revolution is a process, many sacrifices are made and lives are lost. It is never going to be a simple yes-or-no question. The revolution is a hard earned total transformation of Egypt, which will take place sooner or later. The recurring attempts to box in the revolution can only lead to failure.