By Mounir Bishay | January 25, 2014
On the 14th and 15th of January, the people of Egypt voted overwhelmingly in a national referendum for a new Constitution to replace the pro-Muslim Brotherhood Constitution of 2012. The new 2014 Constitution was approved by an unprecedented majority of 98.1%, 19.1 million out of 20.6 million voted “yes,” while only 331 thousand (1.9%) said they were opposed, amid a Brotherhood boycott, for a total turnout of 38.6% of eligible voters. On the other hand, the Brotherhood Constitution of 2012 was approved by only 62%, with a 33% turnout and was marred by reports of voter fraud. The ratified Constitution took effect on January 18.
Though valid, the new Constitution’s high approval margin could raise doubts in the minds of some in the West who are not accustomed to seeing political issue votes reflect anything near unanimity. It is commonly understood in the West that a sign of a healthy democracy is diversity of opinion.
However, one must consider the Egyptian’s state of mind as they cast their ballots. The most common emotion expressed by the voting public was intense anger against the Muslim Brotherhood for the injustices they perpetrated during their one year rule that ended six months ago. This translated into a determination to wipe out everything and anything that had the slightest scent of the Brotherhood’s rule over Egypt.
This attitude was expressed by normally good tempered citizens. Examples of those who voted to bring about change were a crippled man who crawled to the polling place on his hands and knees. Another was a man who arrived at the polls carrying his life-support oxygen cylinder, and another was a 124-year-old woman who slipped her ballot into the box with a vindictive smile of satisfaction.
From Tahrir Square to the ballot box, Egypt was bursting with youthful exuberance for the new draft Constitution in part by enticing the digitally inclined with the Sawtak: Nifty Smartphone App for the Constitutional Referendum. See below.
The referendum wasn’t only a sign of approval to draft the new Constitution, it was also an affirmation to change policy on many other important issues as well.
“Yes” to the Constitution
Although the draft Constitution was by no means perfect, it was far superior to the Brotherhood’s Constitution of 2012. The entire process was open, with a Committee of 50 chosen from all walks of life, in direct contrast to the drafting of its predecessor document. There were many constitutional issues that had the appearance of one-sidedness due to the unbridgeable gap between the opposing parties. In recognition of this, all parties agreed that a “yes” vote was the best way to advance the nation from under the discredited Brotherhood government and towards building a new and more dynamic Egypt. All took comfort that the Constitution could be perfected at a later date.
Robert “Bud” McFarlane, who served as National Security Advisor to President Reagan has written in the Washington Times describing the new Egyptian Constitution as “an impressive, comprehensive document that treats – and guarantees – women’s and other minorities’ rights, provides for an independent court system, and finesses the role of Shariah, calling it an important – but not the exclusive – source from which the guiding principles were drawn.”
“Yes” to the Revolution
On June 30th, 2013, over 30 million Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo demanding the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, instituting the second revolution after 2011. The Army sided with their sentiments and supported the people of Egypt in what is being euphemistically characterized as the “popular impeachment.” This caused national and international uproars. Some people rejected the revolution label and claimed it was actually a military coup. These supporters of the Brotherhood asserted that Morsi was the legitimately elected president, even though many times their number insisted on voting him out of the presidency, once they had the chance. The “yes” vote for the referendum added credence to the fact that the demonstrations of June 30th were in fact symptomatic of an authentic revolution; they represented the will of the people of Egypt, rather than that of the military.
“Yes” to General al-Sisi
The role that the charismatic General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi played in carrying out the will of the Egyptian people has turned him into a national hero. Most Egyptians think that he is the only person capable of leading Egypt during this pivotal and most critical period in her history. There have been several attempts already to draft him as a candidate for president. However, General al-Sisi, who serves as minister of defense, is hesitant. As yet unscheduled presidential and parliamentary elections are set to take place this year. However, the past several years of social upheaval and severe economic decline will provide Egypt’s next generation of leaders with extreme challenges.
“Yes” to Egypt
The millions of voters who participated in the national referendum and approved the Constitution, in essence approved an Egypt without the Muslim Brotherhood. Their “yes” vote validated the fact that Egypt is a unique country with 7,000 years of history that has the distinction of being the fountainhead for other great civilizations. The advent of the second revolution and massively popular approval of the post-Morsi Constitution has proven that Egyptians would not ever permit the will of an outlaw group to sidetrack or to drive their nation backwards again.
“Yes” to the Copts
Voting “yes” for the draft Constitution was a vote in favor of a pluralist Egyptian society, of which the Coptic people are a vital and important part. Copts, who make up an estimated 15% of Egypt’s 90 million people, comprise the largest Christian population in the Middle East. The Copts of Egypt were undisputable elements in the pre-Mubarak revolution as well as the revolution that ousted Morsi. The Brotherhood acknowledged the Copts’ role and conducted a violent campaign destroying over 80 churches in a single day. This was meant to punish the Copts for their anti-Brotherhood stance. It was also seen as an attempt to drag the Copts into sectarian strife and to create further unrest that would help return the Brotherhood to power. The Copts were smart enough not to fall for such obvious trickery. Their patriotism and loyalty to their country earned them the full admiration of all Egyptians. A new era of inclusion for the Copts is starting to take shape. This was displayed when, for the first time in Egyptian history, a president of Egypt visited the Coptic pontiff at St. Mark’s Cathedral to issue him and all Copts Christmas greetings.
For some time, all of Egypt has been experiencing a gloomy period, where things seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. Now, with a newly approved Constitution, there is a sense of hope among Egyptians that envelops the entire nation. Once again, Egypt appears to be headed in the right direction to see the hoped for promises to her people fulfilled.
Mounir Bishay, an Egyptian by birth, is a human rights activist and writer on Coptic (Christians of Egypt) issues. He is the head of the Los Angeles based Christian Copts of California. Mr. Bishay is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.