If we are to believe the unofficial polling figures announced after the first stage of the controversial constitutional referendum in Egypt, where 57 percent are reported to have voted “yes” and 43 percent have voted “no”, with similar figures expected, with a slight give or take on either side, when the final results are announced after the second stage on Saturday, then we are still facing a clear state of division in Egyptian society between the so-called Islamist forces and the civil forces who fear the Brotherhoodization of the state system. The basic principle of a written constitution is that it regulates a social contract, with the largest degree of agreement and consensus possible, between all the components of society. It is not like an election where one party or political force may win by a slight majority, and the minority accepts this in the hope of being able to change the situation in later elections, rather it serves as the basis for the relationship between the state and the society. It outlines the form of the political process that everyone has agreed upon and the rules of the game on the ground.
This is what the transitional political process in Egypt has failed to achieve thus far and consequently a clear division and dangerous confrontation has emerged, both before the referendum and after it. Furthermore, roughly 33 percent of the electorate has so far taken part in the vote, and considering they were going to the polls to vote on something as crucial as the constitution, this figure should have been higher than that.
There are many reasons for the division taking place between political forces and within wider Egyptian society. There is an ideological struggle about the future vision of the state between different political sides that have been unable to reach a point of consensus or middle ground so far. More significantly, there is a deep crisis of confidence that makes the parties to the conflict unable to offer concessions, and the current political course means there is no room for maneuver and it is virtually impossible to reach a compromise.
Even the mood in the street among ordinary voters seems divided, and a sizeable contrast has appeared between governorates voting “yes” and “no”. There is a need to carefully consider the implications of the capital Cairo, the largest governorate in terms of population density and the center of cultural, political and social mobility, voting “no”. It is also expected that a large proportion in general has voted in favor of the constitution because they want the process to move forward and to achieve a manner of stability that can stimulate the wheel of economy and business.
The problem is that this might not be achieved with an ongoing political conflict of this magnitude, sometimes accompanied by acts of violence. Today there is a million man march to abolish the referendum, and on Saturday we will witness the second stage of the vote, so even if the constitution is passed and acknowledged this will not be the end of the matter.
This is where we need rational thought and wisdom; what if the constitution is approved by only a whisker? Will the division and confrontation continue or is there a way out or a path that could alleviate the severe congestion where everyone could meet in the middle of the road? The largest responsibility for that lies in the hands of those holding the reins of power. Most importantly there must be a desire to meet the other forces in the middle of the road in the first place, for the transitional process has proven, through the presidential elections and the constitutional referendum, that no one has an exclusive mandate or an overwhelming majority, and this is what the forces of political Islam must realize, having previously exaggerated the size of their power, and having begun to discover the truth now. There are many wise individuals, politicians and acclaimed legal figures in Egypt who could, in a climate where they have a measure of confidence, correct the path and entrench a culture of reconciliation allowing everyone to be a partner in the transitional process without one party monopolizing or attempting to impose a particular ideology upon others.