The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Constitutional amendments, continued

Egyptians are supposed to vote on amendments to the constitution in five (!) days. 

Meanwhile, the debate is really heating up. Yesterday I was at a very well-attended conferences of activists and legal experts at which figures such as Tahani El-Gabaly, the lone female judge on the country's High Constitutional Court, political analyst Amr Hamzawy and legal expert Nasser Amin spokes out passionately and articulately against the amendments. 

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. 

Here is a video by activist Amr Salama explaining why he is against the amendments. It's in Arabic. Salama says he's against a "copy and paste" fixing of the existing, discredited constitution; that the current plan would call for Egyptians to vote in 6 elections in the next year and a half; that the language of the amendments isn't clear; and that most legal scholars, would-be presidential candidates and public figures whose opinion he trusts are calling for a "no" vote. And websites like this one are encouraging Egyptians to learn about the constitution and to make their own suggestions. 

Before this unexpected resistance, the army is giving mixed signals

The Brotherhood meanwhile is throwing its support behind the amendments. The remnants of the NDP (why is this party still around?) are also in favour. None of which is surprising, since the amendments would allow a parliament elected in 2 months--and probably comprising in great part elements of these two parties, as other political groups won't have had the time to solidify--to then draft the country's new, permanent constitution (if the president asks it to, or half its member vote to--there's no obligation). In other words if there even is a new constitution, its writing will be overseen by a parliament that will almost surely, as usual, have very few women, Copts, young people or poor people. 

The most persuasive argument for voting "no," besides the limited scope and in some cases problematic content of the amendments themselves, is the process by which they are being rammed through. If the amendments pass, it sets a bad precedent. Egyptians should be fully included and informed about a momentous step like this; not handed a list of amendments written in a closed room by a dozen old men and rushed into voting using the specter, once again, of instability. 

Many people are afraid to vote no because they don't want to extend the time period that the military is in charge and because they're not sure what will happen if they vote against the amendments--because the military hasn't given any information about what steps it will take in that case (will it initiate new, more comprehensive amendment process? Will it move straight towards writing a whole new constitution? Will it choose to have presidential elections first?). There are plenty of options, and no reason to believe that an alternative route can't be agreed upon--but it should concern everyone that the army isn't announcing any plan for a "no" result, which suggests it views the referendum results as a foregone conclusion. Egypt is done with those kinds of referendums.