The Constitutional Referendum has divided the Egyptian media. One could mistake the two sides as belonging to different countries, with one side urging people to vote in the referendum and the other urging a boycott. The controversy surrounds the Referendum on the amendment of article 76 of the Egyptian constitution, which will allow opposition candidates to run for presidential elections.
On the day of the referendum, Al-Wafd newspaper published an entirely black front page, with only the title, “Today is a day of mourning; Boycott the referendum”. In the week leading up to the referendum, Al-Wafd committed itself to one major headline, “Egyptians stay at home during the day of mourning”. Al-Ahali, a leftist weekly publication by the Tagammu political party, ran the headline, “No to the Referendum”, while the most provoking display came from Al Destour, a weekly independent publication. The illustration on the front page was of a referendum card, upon which was written, “Citizen, do you agree to be fooled? Yes or No?” A face was drawn next to the card, with a “No” in one eye, and a “Yes” in the other. The newspaper Idhak Lel Duniyyah had an illustration of the officials who carried a banner that said "You must vote".
The publications and television media in favour of the referendum fought a different battle. In the week leading to the referendum, Egyptian television waged an intensive campaign of programs and advertisements that urged people to vote. There were three video clips by young singers aired, where the benefits of voting were described. M
Meanwhile a huge banner that urged people to vote covered the height of the famous TV and Radio building that overlooks the Nile. This was in addition to the banners that combined the invitation to vote with a large picture of Mubarak, which filled the streets. The government-owned newspapers also focused its campaigns on encouraging people to vote. On the day of the referendum, they all ran main headlines that described the flood of voters on the polling stations. They also severely attacked the opposition newspapers.
On the day following the referendum, the war of words and the conflicting “factual” coverage continued, causing confusion for the Egyptian public. The headlines in the government newspapers, such as Al-Msa’ei, ran statements such as, “The will of participation has triumphed. The people had their say and the calls for boycott failed”. In Al Jummhuriyyah the headline read, “The people flooded the referendum boxes from the early hours”, with two pictures of Mubarak and his wife casting their votes. Al-Ahram stated, “The people announced their decision” and Al Akhbar wrote, “A tremendous show of voters exceeded all expectations”.
The opposition media depicted a referendum that could have taken place in another country altogether. Al Masry Al Youm, an independent daily, ran the headline "Government workers and employees saved the referendum", hinting at the allegation that the government forced its employees to go to the voting stations to vote, allocating transportation facilities for this purpose. The same publication also wrote, "Instead of a constitutional amendment Egyptians elected Mubarak". This was in reference to the fact that despite intensive government propaganda in the weeks leading to the referendum, it failed to deliver the message that the referendum was not on the re-election of Mubarak but rather on the amendment of article 76.
On the day after the referendum, Al-Wafd’s headline read, “The referendum’s scandal; chaos and forgery in the committees in addition to the beating up and arresting of the opposition. The government used paid mobs to vote and conceal the success of the boycott". Al Ahrar wrote, "A weak show – voting did not exceed 10 percent in most committees".
The truth remains unclear, as both sides attempt to say what it wants the public to believe, regardless of the truth. It leaves us asking, where is the truth? But who can answer this question?