Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Egyptian Opposition Forces Reject Outcome of Constitutional Referendum

Egyptian Opposition Forces Reject Outcome of Constitutional Referendum

Citing lack of monitoring, transparency coalition calls for more demonstrations

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Egyptians in the two major cities of Cairo and Alexandria voted in the first phase of a referendum for a draft constitution on December 15. The follow up vote will be held on December 22 in smaller cities and rural areas throughout this North African state.

The draft and other issues have drawn widespread protest throughout the country over the last month. On November 22, the Muslim Brotherhood-allied Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree concentrating greater powers in his office.

These two developments, the decree and the national referendum, have brought together a large coalition calling itself the National Salvation Front. The coalition consists of left, liberal, and nationalist parties and organizations in opposition to the character of the constitution and the political process which the FJP government has utilized in the recent period.

Official preliminary results from the December 15 vote tally is giving the yes vote 56 percent and the no vote is trailing at 44. The FJP along with the Al Nour Party, a Salafists-oriented organization, have declared victory in the elections.

However, the National Salvation Front has rejected the official results of the voting and is calling for the cancellation of the second phase of the controversial process scheduled for December 22. Citing what they claim was a lack of judicial supervision and vote rigging, the NSF is demanding that the government abandon the process and re-open negotiations on the development of a new constitution for Egypt.

A leading judges club refused to participate in the supervising of the national referendum. The FJP government, however, said that there was adequate participation by judges who did not heed the call for a boycott.

Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said of the elections that “This percentage…will strengthen the hand of the National Salvation Front and the leaders of this Front have declared they are going to continue this fight to discredit the constitution. The polarization is far from being ended. The unpopularity of Morsi will increase with economic measures he is planning to introduce.” (Reuters, December 17)

Others have said that the results indicate that the Islamist movement is weakening inside the country. In last year’s parliamentary elections the Islamist parties won over 70 percent of the vote.

Mohamed Adel, a member of the April 6 Youth Movement, noted that “A 44 percent rejection for the constitution is quite high and shows that the nation is deeply divided. The results have killed the dream of the Islamist current and the Muslim Brotherhood after half of the nation said ‘no’ to the draft charter.” (Ahram Online, December 17)

Adel went on to point out that “It’s hard to imagine that any respectable country would pass a constitution rejected by 44 percent of society, especially when turnout failed to exceed 31 percent.”

Various organizations have also pointed to the lack of supervision during the first round of the election. Bahieddin Hassan, who is the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, observed that “Despite the [January 25] revolution, we had a referendum like those held during the Mubarak era.” (Ahram Online, December 17)

A representative of the Constitution Party, Alfred Raouf, noted that the main reason why the election was not legitimate was the lack of judicial oversight. Raouf reported that there were no judicial officials in many of the polling stations and FJP and Salafists monitors apparently directed the process.

“The high level of rejection comes despite Egyptians’ desire for ‘stability’—which was promised by the Muslim Brotherhood in the event that the constitution is approved—and despite the fact that the Brotherhood boasts a mobilizing machine that the opposition lacks,” Raouf said.

Opposition Calls for Mass Demonstrations Amid Worsening Economic Crisis

The NSF called upon its supporters to go into the streets on December 18 to express their opposition to the character of the elections. In a December 16 press conference, representatives of the NSF charged the FJP government with “unprecedented rigging” which included 750 violations all across the ten governorates where the first phase votes were cast.

Some of the violations cited by the opposition were unstamped voting ballots (making them invalid), the names of dead persons on the voter rolls, the absence of judicial oversight and the presence of what they claim were 120 “fake” judges involved in the monitoring process.

NSF representatives also contend that with the elections being spread over two days within one week, opportunities are available for ballot tampering and deliberate rigging of the tabulations. Consequently, they demanded a re-vote or the throwing out of the results.

These elections are taking place during a period of decline within the Egyptian economy. Unemployment remains high and the domestic industries in the sectors of tourism and natural gas have been depressed as a result of ongoing political unrest.

There is also uncertainty surrounding the negotiations by the Morsi government with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) involving a loan of $US4.8 billion. The Egyptian pound has fallen to an eight-year low against the U.S. dollar.

Subjected to pressure from the U.S. and other imperialist states, the Morsi government had proposed an increase in sales taxes on select consumer goods in order to address the national deficit. Nonetheless, with mounting political unrest illustrated through mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people opposing the presidential decree of November 22 and the draft constitutional vote on December 15 and 22, Morsi decided to postpone the sales tax increases.

Although the IMF loan was approved in November, it was partially contingent upon the imposition of economic measures that would have worsened the conditions of workers in Egypt. An anonymous source in Washington was quoted as saying that “IMF management was bewildered by Egypt’s move to postpone the tax increases just a few hours after the decision was taken.” (Ahram Online, December 17)

Egyptian government figures place the national deficit at $US23 billion, which is 7.9 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Others analysts have placed the amount much higher.

The FJP government of President Morsi has not taken any measures that would distance it from the international capitalist financial institutions. Neither has the current administration made efforts to reorient its foreign policy away from the U.S. or take a position against the state of Israel and its draconian policies towards the Palestinians in Gaza.

Qatar, a Gulf ally of the U.S., has recently pledged $20 billion in investments to the Morsi government in Egypt. However, if Egyptians reject the draft constitution, the Qataris are rumored to be prepared to reverse its pledge.

The Egyptian masses want fundamental change in the political, economic and foreign policy aims of the government. In order for this to take place their must be a break with imperialism and the re-building of the country based upon its own national interests and those of the majority of the population inside the country.

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