By Ahmed Reda
Jan 12, 2014:
One can spend hours analyzing each article of the new revised constitution, that is set for referendum on January 14th in Egypt, and convince others why it contains articles that are far removed from any modern and developed democratic nation. However, there is a far more important piece of advice to be given regarding the upcoming constitutional referendum. The entire process of the revision of the constitution is both undemocratic and filled with corruption, that debating the contents of the constitution is a waste of time. Every man and woman that seeks a solid foundation for the future of Egypt should boycott the referendum altogether.
After the military coup in Egypt, one of the missions of the illegitimate government was to set up a 50-member committee responsible for revising the 2013 Egyptian Constitution, for the interim President to sign and for the people of Egypt to approve. Not only do these 50 members not represent the majority of Egyptians, but they were selected by an illegitimate government. These 50 members held private sessions to revise the constitution, which is the opposite of the televised sessions during the draft of the 2013 constitution under Morsi. This did not give Egyptians the chance to discuss the contents of the constitution or get involved in the process. The entire process occurred under military rule, which is notorious for corruption. New laws were passed by the interim government which removed the right for Egyptians living abroad to vote through mail. This could be seen as a move to decrease turnout among Egyptians living abroad since most of Egyptians living abroad are in Saudi Arabia and are pro-Muslim Brotherhood. Another change in the rules allows for two days of voting inside Egypt at either the district in which they reside or the district in which they registered to vote, which opens the possibility of a person voting in one location the first day and another location the second day.
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, the leader of the Egyptian Democratic Party and a member of the 50-member committee, went on a televised interview and claimed that the military officials amended the constitution after it was approved by the committee. He claimed that during a celebration dinner, the final draft, that will be handed to interim President, Adly Mansour, for approval, featured a change in words that was not apparent to the members. Despite the clear forgery, Abul-Ghar and the members of the committee brushed off the incident as not “to affect the referendum”. Realizing what he had revealed, Abul-Ghar later claimed in a separate interview that he did not say what he said the other day, despite it being televised. How can the people be expected to trust a closed committee full of dishonest members that brush off a very serious incident and a government that forges a document that is a basis for the future of Egypt?
Despite the thousands of protesters killed and jailed since the military coup and the clear targeting of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, the military regime has not been shy of targeting people who are considered liberals or once supported the removal of Mohamed Morsi. The interim government has passed a law banning any protests without approval from the government. Ahmed Maher and two other members of the April 6th Youth Movement, which was a key player in the 2011 Egyptian revolution, were arrested and sentenced to three years in jail for participating in an “unlicensed protest”. Bassem Youssef, the host of a satirical television program similar to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, was a prominent player in the growing outrage towards Morsi’s government. After the military coup, his show was put on hiatus. Once the show returned, it ran for only one episode before it was cancelled by the parent company, CBC, and Bassem Youssef was investigated by prosecutors. It has been rumored that the company was pressured by the government and/or its supporters because Bassem mocked the government and its supporters in the sole episode since his return. These examples of silencing the opposition do not develop an environment for people to freely debate the draft constitution or the actions of the government for fear of prosecution.
Hours after a bombing occurred outside a security building in late December, the interim government announced that the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the attack and declared it to be a terrorist organization. This decision was made despite the fact that another unrelated group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the attack, the Muslim Brotherhood officially condemned the attack and the use of violence, and there was no evidence linking the attack to the Muslim Brotherhood. This decision, which was meant as a political move to damage the Muslim Brotherhood, instead further damages Egypt’s economy and polarizes the country even more. The government expects people to freely vote on the constitution despite millions of Egyptians being regarded as terrorists living among the citizens of Egypt.
The Revolutionary Socialists and former presidential candidate, Khalid Ali, have announced that they will vote “no” in the referendum. Initially, The Strong Egypt Party, which is headed by failed presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and the April 6th Youth Movement has decided to vote “no” in the referendum, but recently reversed their decision and decided to boycott the referendum. Although it’s good to see that there is opposition to the revised constitution, the correct course of action should be a total boycott of the referendum for the reasons stated above. A boycott has already been announced by the Anti-Coup Alliance along with the Wasat Party, The Freedom and Justice Party, The Salafist Front, and the Gama’a Al-Islamiyya. The illegitimate government and military will fight to the end to hold the referendum and have the constitution approved. In their opinion, it is the only thing that will grant them some legitimacy and paint a picture to the world that there is a sense of stability in Egypt. A very low turnout along with a disapproval or even a marginal victory will be a blow to the new regime. It will show that the majority of Egyptians do not approve of the legitimacy of this revised constitution and/or approve of its contents. One of the arguments used against the approval of the 2013 Egyptian Constitution was that despite the 64 percent approval, the voter turnout was roughly 33 percent. If the turnout can be even lower this time, the same argument can turn around and bite the once opponents of the 2013 constitution.
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