The unofficial outcome of the first round of Egypt's controversial referendum appears to be in favor of the draft constitution, drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly. It was reported that about 57 percent of the voters across half of the country approved the proposed constitution, while 43 percent voted against it. The second and final round of voting on the charter, planned for next Saturday, will not make much a difference. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi allies enjoy wide support in most of the 17 governorates voting on Dec. 22. Hence, it is expected that the draft constitution will pass by about 60 percent of the total voters.
Whatever the final results will be, it appears that the draft constitution will receive a small majority, which proves the opposition's stand that the constitution doesn't have a national consensus. Egyptian state-run TV said on its website that 57 percent of voters cast "no" ballots in the country's capital and largest city — Cairo. More important, a large portion of Egyptians voted against the draft in the first round, underscoring deep political divisions and continuous political crisis in Egypt.
Although election officials extended the voting time by four hours, voter turnout was so low (31 percent), far lower than the presidential or parliamentary elections following the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime in February 2011. This suggests that more than two thirds across half of Egypt have boycotted the referendum. In fact, most of the boycotters announce their rejection of the new constitution because it doesn't enjoy a national consensus. According to Wael Ghonim, an icon of the 2011 revolution, “Out of every 100 Egyptians, 69 did not take place in the referendum, 18 said ‘yes’ and 13 said ‘no.’” This highlights the legitimacy problem Egypt is experiencing right now.
In addition, several voting irregularities and violations were reported, including invalid ballots, voters being prevented from voting, independent monitors being prevented from witnessing vote counts and insufficient supervision by judges. These irregularities were widespread at polling stations to such a state that key seven Egyptian human rights watchdogs called for the first round to be repeated. These charges, regardless of the Supreme Electoral Commission's response, raise more questions about the legitimacy of the vote.
The National Salvation Front (NSF), an umbrella opposition group led by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, rejected the unofficial results of the first round of the referendum and claimed the draft was actually rejected by 66 percent of the vote. The NSF called for mass protests on Tuesday (Dec.18) against "large scale fraud" marred the first round of the constitution referendum.
It is beyond doubt that the controversial constitutional referendum has split Egypt into two rival and confilictual camps; Islamists who view the draft constitution as a gradual step toward Sharia, or Islamic law, and secularists who fear that the document endangers liberties and rights for many segments of society. Polarization will only deepen after the votes on the constitution. This polarization and standoffs between rival camps in Egypt symbolize the failure of President Mohammed Mursi's government to unify Egypt after almost two years of Mubarak's fall.
There is deep concern among Egyptians that clashes and incidents of violence reported during the first round of voting in at least three governorates, including Cairo, Dakahlia and Alexandria, might spread all over the country before or during the second round on next Saturday. According to state-owned newspaper al-Ahram, "regardless of the outcome of the current constitutional poll, the coming period in Egypt would be ridden by political conflict and strife." There will be no stability in any case. President Mursi and his government will also face difficult decisions in coming month on a slew of economic issues that could force them to take unpopular steps, provoking further instability.
Most important, Egypt is moving toward a religious state under President Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their ultraconservative Salafi allies. The draft constitution would empower Islamists to carry out the most widespread and strictest implementation of Sharia that modern Egypt has seen. Opposition parties fear that Egypt might be transferred into an Iran-like state.
(Ayman el-Dessouki is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, Egypt.)