Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

From the Square to the referendum | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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We hear many stories in Cairo about the events of the “January 25th” Revolution, and the confrontations in Tahrir Square. There are stories about how the spark began in front of the Supreme Court building, and then events moved onto Tahrir Square. We hear about the hesitation of the Muslim Brotherhood to join the protests, at the beginning, and then its decision to participate in the protection of Tahrir Square, because of its experience of state confrontations. We hear about the solidarity of various political forces, regardless of their ideology, and between the Muslims and the Christians. We also hear tales of the army officer Maged Boulis, who was dubbed “the Lion of Tahrir” by the youth of the revolution, as he took it upon himself to protect them from the state-sponsored thugs on “Bloody Wednesday”.

The new force in Egyptian society, namely the young middle class, was the spark that ignited the revolution. They gathered and organized their ranks through the internet, and one of their major inspirations was Mohammed ElBaradei. Then they were joined by ordinary citizens of all ages, and traditional political opposition forces, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Subsequently the army, and the overall tendency of the Egyptian people, swung in favor of the revolutionaries.

The referendum which took place last Saturday was the first genuine referendum, with genuine results, perhaps since the 1952 Revolution. There were many different stances, and visions varied between those who advocated the revolution: traditional forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood endorsed the “yes” vote, which received the overwhelming majority of 77 percent, whilst the new, unorganized forces lost out and gained little more than 22 percent [by voting “no”]. The referendum, which was accompanied by political campaigns, raised fears of a strong showing for politicized Islam, and the prospects of its dominance in the political future. The Islamic scene is no longer limited to the Muslim Brotherhood alone, there are the Salafis, al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah (Egyptian Islamic Group or EIG), and the Sufi movements. The referendum battle was politically intense, despite its short duration, and in fact there was no substantial difference between voting “yes” and “no”, after it was discovered that in either case, new constitutional amendments would be announced, meaning there is no fear of a return to the 1979 constitution. The new constitution for the country will be created through a constituent assembly.

Yet the referendum was important in ways other than simply “yes” or “no”, for it determines the route which the transitional country will go down. It is important because it gives a clear reading of the political map, and the influence of different powers, which can be deduced by the referendum results in all governorates.

It is important is to interpret the results correctly, even though the polls met all expectations by indicating that the “yes” vote won, yet those who voted “no” may have felt some frustration that their ratio under 30 percent.

Away from the political slogans used by each side, which are natural to take with a pinch of salt, it would be wrong to imagine that the 77 percent who voted “yes” were all Muslim Brotherhood supporters, or members of political Islamic currents. On the contrary, a large segment of ordinary people, especially outside the major cities, voted yes in light of the belief that this would accelerate the political process, help matters returning to normal, and re-launch the economy.

Also, regarding the 22 percent who said no, who represent more than 4 million votes, this is not a conventional minority. These people represent a new force in society, the majority of which are young people who do not yet have an established, organized political framework. However, they are also the most daring, and they represent the future of the country, by virtue of their age.

The correct reading of the situation is that the transitional period will not be easy, or short, and this is normal in any stage of radical political transformation, in any society. The new forces will need time and effort to organize themselves, and all parties, old and new, will learn with practice how to manage disputes and accept the decisions of the ballot boxes, as long as there will be other free and fair referendums in the future.