The two phases of the constitutional referendum have come to an end, but has the crisis in Egypt? The answer is a clear no, for not only does the crisis remain, it may indeed have been further complicated. Conducting a referendum in such an atmosphere does not grant the constitution the required legitimacy, nor does it enjoy the consensus that a reference expressing the hopes and aspirations of all the Egyptian people of all political, ideological and religious affiliation and social categories should! The Egyptian people should feel as if this document guarantees the rule of institutions, as well as protects their rights and safeguards their freedoms without distinction or exception.
One might argue that President Mursi needed to complete the constitutional project in order to finish the democratization process and ensure that Egypt as a whole is devoted to the battle for stability, security and the economy. In addition to this, there is also the pledge, made by Mursi’s (now resigned) Vice President Mahmoud Mekki to consider the fate of the disputed constitutional articles and have the legislative authority amend these following the next elections. However this logic is like someone who knows that the foundation of his building are unsound but driven by greed and quick profit insists on completing this construction project in the hope of carrying out renovations at a later date, risking the ultimate collapse of the building because it is built on weak foundations. If everybody is convinced that the new constitution will require amendment, why is there a rush to pass this? Why not wait until there is agreement on the disputed constitutional articles before submitting this constitution as a whole for referendum so that people can vote on a complete document that does not require amendment or modification just months after its drafting has been completed? The constitution is the architectural blueprint for the rule of institutions; it specifies powers and balances and is the guarantee for rights and freedoms. Any imbalance in the constitution will mean an imbalance in the foundations of the structure of the state. Governments change however the constitution should be unaffected by changes in the ruling party every 4 or 5 years, particularly in democratic states where the constitution is a guarantee regarding the non-predominance of any party in power. In addition to this, the constitution should serve as a guarantee to prevent any government exceeding its legitimate powers or infringing upon other authorities or the guaranteed freedoms and rights of the people.
This referendum was carried out in a tense and charged atmosphere, whilst there is a basic lack of consensus regarding the constitution itself, not to mention the presence of accusations of voter fraud and manipulation. In addition to this, two thirds of the Egyptian electorate ultimately did not vote in this referendum. This means that the constitutional document does not represent the majority of the Egyptian people, nor does it enjoy the required legitimacy. The continuation of an atmosphere of crisis, division and confrontation means that Egypt is as far from possible from the atmosphere of stability required to establish a proper democratic structure or carry out parliamentary elections in a healthy and correct manner. This is not to mention rescuing the Egyptian economy from looming disaster, which represents the most important and critical issue over the coming weeks and months. There are numerous indications that Egypt’s financial and economic situation has entered a very critical stage, which was characterized as “high risk” by Prime Minister Hisham Qandil in statements made a few days ago. Egypt’s budget deficit has increased sharply, whilst national debt is also rising rapidly due to a lack of funding. In addition to this the value of the Egyptian Pound is decreasing, which will lead to a rise in the price of all imported goods.
When President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood took the decision to fight the battle over the constitution – rather than postpone this and choose consensus and stability over partisan interests and calculations – they were well aware of this catastrophic situation. Evidence of this can be seen in Mursi, in order not to provoke further public anger prior to the referendum, withdrawing the economic decisions he had issued which would result in the prices of many vital commodities witnessing a big increase. The government also asked the International Monetary Fund to postpones negotiations regarding an urgent $4.8 billion loan because the terms of this loan will include the imposition of corrective economic “austerity’ measures that will certainly increase the cost of living for most Egyptians. However postponing difficult decisions for the future is nothing more than a temporary maneuver until after the referendum, and this is a maneuver that may have led to Egypt’s economy entering an even more critical stage because postponing treatment only allows more time for the patient’s condition to deteriorate.
The biggest battle in the coming period will be over the economy, but this will not be the only battle that Egypt will face; there are numerous other looming battles that the relevant forces are gearing up for. We will no doubt see battles over the judiciary and the media after the Muslim Brotherhood – along with its Islamist allies – fired the first shot against these institutions, raising the slogan of “purification” and issuing accusations of conspiring against “the legitimacy”. It is as if they believe that this “legitimacy” is something that only the president possesses, rather than something that is also shared by other institutes that should be protected by the constitution, particularly the judiciary which should be immune from political pressure, and which in turn should protect freedom of expression and the media. There are a lot of statements from Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist leaders that reveal their premeditated intentions to deceive the judiciary and media, the latest of which was issued by Salafist leader Dr. Yasser Burhaimi. Speaking during a seminar on the new constitution, he said “the constitution court must be cleansed in any way possible.” The man also revealed plans to control al-Azhar, adding that maneuvers are being conducted to pass a law permitting the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar to be deposed, after the Islamists were unable to include a similar article in the constitution.
In this tense atmosphere, the current Shura Council – which has been granted legislative powers – should look at adopting laws that will govern the forthcoming parliamentary election, including political rights laws as well as laws to amend constituencies. These are issues that could ignite even more battles, particularly as the Shura Council is ruled by the Brotherhood and their allies. However many others have raised question about the Council’s legitimacy, particularly as it was elected in precisely the same manner as the People’s Assembly, which was later dissolved, whilst only 6 percent of the eligible electorate participated in these elections.
Egypt is on the verge of witnessing huge battles that will only serve to increase the country’s suffering and division, however if a miracle should come to pass and all parties sit down at the table for serious dialogue, this could save Egypt from the disastrous path that it is traversing.