Saturday, March 19, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: The Coming Referendum and Just Say No

Today was referendum day in Egypt.  Egyptians in mass were to vote on the amendments to the constitution.  There are many concerns about the amendments and what they are meant to do.

Update:  Stories coming out of voting.  First, the Egyptian people are not giving any politicians privileges to vote ahead of anyone else.  Apparently, they forced the governor of Cairo District and the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood to stand in line with everyone else.  The only people allowed to move ahead appear to be the disabled and the pregnant women since they are standing in lines for hours on end to vote.  Kind of reminds me of some other moments in history, not so long ago.  

Other things, not so good, the MB has been reported to have deployed representatives and Imam's in front of polling stations to try to convince people to vote "yes".  I don't think they have the correct idea about how "free and impartial" elections are supposed to occur.  I think the next evolution of election law should address this (I hope).  UPDATE: Apparently, some people told the MB to bug off and several suggested that, yeah, there ought to be a law.

And El Baradei get's booed along with some stone throwing.

Sarah Carr over at Inanities says she is voting no:

The proposed amendment to article 75 reads – in spirit – thusly:
Half-Egyptians are the scum we must share our country with and so are the bastard children of Egyptians who had the stupidity to acquire other nationalities or married whores from other countries thereby strangling at birth their progeny’s political ambitions. This is a way to keep out Ahmed Zoweil and possibly also stifle the presidential aspirations of that nuclear pain in the arse Mohamed ElBaradei because Rose El-Youssef says he’s an American but we’re not sure cos he said on OnTV that he only has one nationality.
If I must be treated like a political untouchable then I want consistency. Don’t let me vote in a race I am not allowed to compete in. And possibly also make me wear a hair coat.

She goes on to outline the two positions, those who want a "yes" and those who want a "no".  The MB is pushing for a "yes" because the amendments, no matter what they say about their political aspirations, will give them a lot of power to form the next constitution and control the potential for a strong rival party or candidate to appear.

The Weekly Standard puts the "yes" into context for the revolution:

A yes vote means that Egyptians also want to return to business as usual, and so the vote tomorrow is a referendum on the revolution. “Yes means there will be little legitimacy for the demonstrations any more,” says Bargisi. “The notion that people demonstrating were out there for democracy and representing all Egyptians will fail. The revolutionaries will be seen to be a minority, and that from the beginning there weren’t all that many people who supported their demands.”

Part of the amendments that make the whole thing a concern for the liberals are the sections that not only limit who can run for president, but how any future candidate or party can participate in future elections. 

Meanwhile, article 76 was modified to ease draconian restrictions on presidential nominations. The commission set three methods for candidacy: a presidential hopeful should either be endorsed by 30 members from one of the parliament’s two chambers or both, garner 30,000 signatures from Egyptians living in 15 provinces or belong to a party that has at least one seat in the People’s Assembly or the Shura Council.

Two of those methods insist that any party or candidate has to obtain the approval (endorsement) of 30 members of parliament or be a member of an already seated party in the parliament or Shura council means that those already in power get to decide who can play.  It is essentially a continuation of the Mubarek and NDP's old ways of restricting participation.  There is the "third way" which says that a candidate can get 30,000 signatures from Egyptians living in 15 provinces (out of 29).  What we're talking about is making it extremely difficult for somebody who has not already been in the forefront of politics in Egypt in the past, who does not have the "presence" and "face", to become a candidate.  Essentially making this an election of all of the old powers in Egypt.

The other concern is, as El Baradei has been arguing against, if the election is within 60 days or six months, the only parties with the organization to participate are the MB and the NDP.  That means, with the above rules in place, not only will these two organizations continue to control the government, they will be the parties that "reform" or draft a new constitution.  The concern is that they will re-enforce Islamic law and possibly undermine any hopes for the liberal parties to advance or real democratic freedoms, sending Egypt back in time, as the Weekly Standard notes, to that moment in 1952.  Right before a military coup put the military in control and democracy far out of reach for everyone else.

The Youth Movement adamantly opposes the new referendums.  Per Arab Media:

- Cancel the old constitution and a new constitution for the country following the formation of the new parliament should be the nature of the popular and democratic constitution paves the way for a parliamentary republic, including include reducing the powers of the President of the Republic and the separation of powers and specific rules for the electoral process.

 Who participates in the position in the transitional phase may not run in the first parliamentary elections or presidential leaders. This stress on securing the transition from any external pressure to secure the transfer of power.

Those are the two big ones along with canceling the emergency law and wiping out the Interior Ministry's state security apparatus that they believe has and continues to oppress, arrest, torture and otherwise kill any who oppose the last regime.  

The Youth Coalition of revolutionaries gave a statement on television yesterday, stating their position on voting no. Basically, what they want is that the old constitution of 1971 is null and void.  That they do not want a "top down" reformed constitution that keeps all the bad things in place, but want a constituent assembly that will write a whole new constitution that would meet all of the Egyptian people's demands.  They believe that a "no" vote will allow this to happen.

More on the debate can be found at Al-Masry Al-Youm.  Those saying they will vote 'yes' have several concerns about the delay to civilian authority.

“There are people, like me, who don’t trust the military at all, as it has been slow in responding to [our] demands,” wrote Alaa Seif on his blog. Seif is a leftist activist who intends to vote in favor of the amendments. “The military has been preserving the security of the state, protecting symbols of the [toppled ruling] National Democratic Party and corrupt people, while consistently fighting protests and strikes,” he wrote.

Sandmonkey, on the Free Republic of Egypt:

Dear Free People of Egypt,
It’s a lovely day to be talking to you all in a Mubarak and NDP free Egypt. It’s been quite the undertaking, and many people were terrified, injured or killed, but we somehow managed to do it. Congratulations on that to all of us. Pats on the back, everybody!

Naturally, we (the revolutionaries) still don’t think the battle is over. The Mubaraks are still free, so are Fathy Surrour, Zakaria Aazmy and Safwat ElSherief, alongside with all the corrupt NDP officials in all branches of government, not to mention all the state security and police officers who spent the last 3 decades terrorizing, monitoring, torturing & killing those they were supposed to protect. The Political prisoners and detained Jan25 protesters are still unlawfully in prison, the stolen money is still in foreign countries, and the Minimum wage of 200 dollars a month for all Egyptians is still not enforced. There is also the matter of transparency of the government (financially & operationally and having the country run by civilians instead of a military Junta, a new constitution to be drafted instead of one that gives absolute power to the head of state, political freedoms to all Egyptians, enforceable bill of rights to all Egyptians, equal rights to all women, equal political rights to Egyptians living abroad and/ or born or married to a foreigner, freedom of the media, etc..etc.. I don’t want to bore you, but, yep, lots of work is yet to be done, and it’s taking far too long by those in charge to get done, which is making us unhappy. And Unhappy protesters usually protest. It’s just a fact of life.

Now we wait.  Polling stations remained open until everyone has had a chance to vote.  

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