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Egypt: The Constitutional Amendments

This post is part of our special coverage for Egypt Protests 2011.

About one month after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians went to vote on constitutional amendments, on Saturday, March 19. The referendum is on a group of articles in the constitution that discuss the Presidency and Parliamentary elections and the requirements for candidates.

Dostor2011: We Voted

Shady Shahin and his friends showing their pink fingers as proof that they voted

The Egyptian blogger, Raafatology, wrote here about the first referendum his generation has witnessed without knowing its results in advance:

For the first time in so many years, Egyptians are going to vote on something and they don't actually know the results in advance. We are used to the NDP wining by huge margin. In the 80s, it was 99.9%, it went down in the 90s to 98%, but in the last decade, it was 82%!
This voting will be the first in my generation without the name Mubarak written anywhere!

During the week or two that preceded the referendum, there were huge debates all over Egypt as to whether those amendments should be accepted or not. Some people found some of the amended articles confusing [Ar], while others refused them. Some people wanted to vote “yes” despite their disagreement with all of the articles,as this would help in speeding up the election process so that parliamentary contests can be held before September, followed soon after by a presidential race. The result would be to reach a political and economical stability state as soon as possible. While some others believed this is the best chance to write a new constitution from scratch, and had some fears that an early parliamentary elections might also end up with a parliament consisting only from the two only ready political forces in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak's National Democratic Party. Some decided to vote with the amendments because they had reasonable fears that any delays might result in the Army jumping on the wagon and stay in charge forever.

Alaa Abdel Fattah wrote here about the division that took place within the revolts regarding the referendum:

أول مرة منذ بداية الثورة نلاقي نفسنا في خلاف حقيقي وسط جمهور و قوى الثورة. من 25 يناير الى يوم التنحي كنا متفقين كلنا بملايينا على الأهداف و الوسائل، بعد سقوط مبارك انتقلنا لمرحلة متفقين فيها على الاهداف لكن مختلفين على الوسائل (استمرار الاعتصام في التحرير أم لا). بعد سقوط شفيق و تلقي أمن الدولة ضربات موجعة مستمر اتفاقنا على الأهداف الكبيرة لكن دخلنا و لأول مرة في منطقة خلافية بحق، و لأول مرة تنقسم صفوفنا.
الانقسام ده معبر عنه في جدل التعديلات الدستورية و هل نصوت بنعم أم لا
For the first time since the Egyptian revolution started we haven't seen a similar division between the revolts. Since January 25 and until Mubarak stepped down, the millions of us agreed on our goals and tactics. After the fall of Mubarak we moved to a new stage where we continued to agree on our goals yet disagreed on the tactics (some preferred to continue the sit-ins in Tahrir square, and some preferred not to). After the fall of the Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and the State Security we–and for the first time–experienced a significant division.
This division can clearly be seen in our debate regarding the constitutional amendments, and whether we should vote with a yes or no.

A parallel debate took place away from the blogosphere, where dirty tactics were sometimes used.

A series of video advertisements were made that portrayed the amendments to the constitutions as some kind of deception. One or two of them compared it to not-so-valuable goods being sold to a client without him noticing. Another one, however, was criticized for the inappropriate use of women's sexuality in it. Fatma Emam wrote about that ad here:

My friend Doaa Abd elAal sent me a video of amending the constitution, which is the hot political topic in Egypt. The opposition to this amendments called it trail to rebuild the constitution, but the term used in Arabic was “Terqee'” aka rebuilding the hymen.
And that was visualized in a video of a woman who seems not “good enough” according to the Egyptian conservative standard, and she was described as doing all that she wants, namely, having sex before marriage. In the scene after that an innocent bride and her groom are shown, and the video ends by saying “you deserve better than that.”
The bottom line is this is sexism, the ad used the women's sexuality and judged women who choose certain choices that are not accepted by the society as those of “good women”.

Some of the Islamists who were in favor of a yes vote relied heavily on religion to persuade people. Some of the religious claims used weren't even accurate, but were just used for the sake of the debate. A printed advertisement [Ar] was published in the newspapers telling people that according to Islam they are obliged to vote with yes. On the other hand, some Christians were also reported to have used religion in persuading people. Hend Sallam wrote about the use of religion here.

One main complaint on Saturday’s referendum is the move by some religious groups for their followers to vote ‘yes’ on a religious basis. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) distributed many fliers encouraging people to vote ‘yes’ for the amendments, and Salafist Islamists told their followers that if they did not vote ‘yes’, Article 2 of the constitution would be canceled. Article 2 states that Islam is the state religion and principles of Islamic “Sharia” law is the main source of legislation.

Conversely, many Coptic Christians called for a ‘no’ vote because they want an entirely new constitution, feeling they are not equal citizens under the current constitution.

The Islamic Anti-Christianity Observatory categorized those who are with and those who are against the constitution amendments according to their point of view:

إن الناظر في الساحة المصرية اليوم فيما يتعلق بالتعديلات الدستورية يستطيع أن يبلور الاتجاهات الفكرية والسياسية في خطين عريضين ينضوي تحت كل منهما أطياف عديدة
تجمعهم قواسم مشتركة وإن اختلفوا في كثير من مشاربهم ومناهجهم .
الخط الأول: يجمع شتات الإسلاميين وأبرزهم السلفيون والإخوان المسلمون والذين يدعون إلى الموافقة على التعديلات الدستورية.
الخط الثاني: يندرج تحته في المقام الأول النصارى تقودهم الكنيسة الأرثوذوكسية و أقباط المهجر, ثم الأحزاب الكرتونية التي كانت جزءا من النظام القديم , وأتباع البرادعي وهؤلاء يجمعون ثلة من الليبراليين والعلمانيين والمغيبين وبعض “المثقفين” و يرفضون جميعا التعديلات الجديدة.
By having a look on the Egyptian society you can see two main broad streams each of them resents one side of the referendum debates. Each has its main characteristics, even if its components have different ideologies and strategies.
The first stream includes: All the Islamic movements including the Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, and those who are call for the acceptance of the amendments.
The second stream includes: The Christians, led by the Orthodox Church and the Christians in exile, then come the political parties that were part of the former regime, then comes El-Baradei followed by the liberals, seculars, and intellectuals who are all against the amendments.

Till the day the referendum results were announced, it was hard to predict the exact percentage of those who were with or against it. On Twitter and Facebook the number of people on both sides were almost even. The profile pictures using red logos with “Vote No” on them, were even seen more than the green ones. Many prominent figures such as El Baradei, Amr Moussa, Wael Ghonim (the administrator of We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page), and many other writers and artists declared that they were going to refuse the amendments. Ursula Lindsey wrote here about the poll that took place on “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page and its results:

The We Are All Khaled Said group has carried out an opinion poll, with 18,000 participants (I love that we have polls now, no matter how unscientific!) and the results are: 49% against; 36% for; 13% undecided; 2% won't vote.

Dostor2011: Heebzo Pink Finger

After the invasion of #VoteYes and #VoteNo logos on users profile pictures and avatars, fingers dipped in pink ink replaced those logos after the referendum

Yet offline, and in the streets, it was clear that a majority of the voters were going to accept the amendments. Then came the referendum day, and later on the results came out as follows, showing a great victory to those who agreed on the amendments:

The results came as follows :

  • The referendum was held in 43,059 committees
  • Those eligible to vote were 45 million
  • Those who went to vote were 18,537,000, or “41.19%”
  • The valid votes were 18,366,000
  • The nullified votes were 171,000
  • Those who said yes to the amendments were 14,192,000 “77.2%”
  • Those who said No to the amendments were 4,174,000 “21.8%”

Here is the breakdown of the vote throughout the governorates of Egypt in the official referendum. Cairo and Alexandria had the highest voting turnout while South Sinai had the lowest turn out.

Such a huge difference between referendum results and the speculations built using the online scene made many people question the real effect of Internet and social media on the masses in the streets.

Sandmonkey wrote down his reasons behind such huge gap, and here is a quick summary of his blog:

  1. How many Egyptians joined the protests at their peak? The day Mubarak left office, it was estimated 10-20 million in the streets. What’s 20 million out of 85 million again? 25%? That means there are 65 million who never joined the protests from the beginning, and who probably miss the stability and security of the old regime. 75% that is used to say YES and there is no proof that they changed their mentality or behavior. Never-mind those amongst you who also voted yes for their reasons…
  2. CAIRO IS NOT EGYPT. Stop your Cairo-is-the-center-of-the-universe chauvinism. 25 million live in Cairo, 60 million live elsewhere. And, let’s be honest, the NO vote people did not manage to get their message across to the people effectively. There was no real TV campaign, no real grassroots campaign and no actual debate…
  3. The Military & the MB (Muslim Brotherhood) & the Salafis & the NDP (National Democratic Party) were pushing for a YES vote. The Military, as always, just wanted to get out of this mess as quickly as possible, and the YES vote meant just that for them without having to face any real headaches…
  4. You no longer represent the people. You really don’t, at least when it comes to their concerns. Your concerns and their concerns are not the same anymore. You care about the revolution, & the arrest of NDP figures & getting the country on the right track. They care about economic security, the return of stability and normalcy the fastest way possible…

Zeinobia on the other hand expressed her anger and disagreement with those who claim that those who voted with the amendments were either being brainwashed by the Muslim-Brotherhood/Salafis or were against the revolution from the beginning:

I heard that some are saying that the 22% were the ones who were in Al Tahrir !! This is offensive and unacceptable , whoever say it should apologize ASAP to the Egyptian people. Religion was not only used badly in this referendum but also the revolution was being used badly. The political elitists of the “No” team are attacking the voters who said “Yes” and considering them as naïve and ignorant. Again, not all the people were pushed by the MB or by Salafists. Also you should not underestimate their wish for stability and mock it.

Finally Lastodri wrote how voting in such a democratic atmosphere made her proud to be Egyptian.

Today was the second time for me to vote, but the first time in a democratic atmosphere. As such, I am happy and proud of my Egyptianness today.

And Zeinobia added that even after this referendum, the revolution is still not over yet:

The revolution is not over with the outset of Mubarak and the semi fall of his regime. The revolution is not over with the constitutional amendments I am afraid. The revolution will be over when it reaches to its real goal , the real aim these martyrs is a better Egypt.

This post is part of our special coverage for Egypt Protests 2011.

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