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.
The Egyptian blogger, Raafatology, wrote here about the first referendum his generation has witnessed without knowing its results in advance:
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:
الانقسام ده معبر عنه في جدل التعديلات الدستورية و هل نصوت بنعم أم لا
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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:
- 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…
- 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…
- 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…
- 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:
And Zeinobia added that even after this referendum, the revolution is still not over yet:
This post is part of our special coverage for Egypt Protests 2011.