Sunday, March 20, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Referendum on the Muslim Brotherhood?

In yesterday's post, I linked to a story from the Weekly Standard that suggested that the referendum was in some ways a referendum on the revolution.  

After reading extensively the reports coming out of Egypt, I have to repudiate that assessment.  I believe that this referendum can be safely categorized as a referendum on the Muslim Brotherhood and their aspirations.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been mobilizing to "encourage" people to vote "yes".  Some say it has degenerated into both intimidation and a form of vote buying by setting up stands to give food and drinks to waiting voters while simultaneously lecturing them about why they should vote "yes".  There are reports that El Baradei was attacked on his way to vote either by residual NDP or by "salafis" (I have been reading much and there seems to be some split among the Egyptians as to whether this implies the MB or some other more stringent, fundamentalist group that would more closely align with their idea of the AQ types).  There are other reports that the MB were actually inside some polling stations "exhorting" people to vote yes.

As I wrote yesterday, the concerns of the "liberals" and many other "common" Egyptians, that the amendments as they stand would a) help keep the old politicos in place and b) help pave the way for the MB to become the second power, both controlling the political power structures of Egypt and the writing of the new constitution that would thwart the demands of the common people for a more open and responsive government, for, of and by the people.

In a Divided Egypt, the Military and Islamists Play for Political Advantage

"We are afraid that some tragedies will occur between those saying yes and no, especially now that the Muslim Brotherhood is saying yes," said Shadi el-Ghazali Harb, a representative of the Democratic Front Party (DFP) in the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth on Thursday evening. "We did not want to show this image in the world, so we're directing our efforts to distributing pamphlets." (...)

The passage of the amendment, however, would probably undermine the Brotherhood's cooperation with other movements. "I expect that if the referendum turns out to be yes, the tensions between us and the Brotherhood will rise," said Harb.

More Women Come to Vote than Men? 

“I didn’t expect so many of them to show up,” Safty, clearly impressed, confesses to his friend. “But, by God, it’s a beautiful sight.”
“Just remember,” Shafik adds with a smile, “These are the type of women that say ‘no’.”
The joke — referring to the fact that most voters, male and female, seemed to be in favor of rejecting the proposed amendments — may have cracked the old neighbors up, but the reality of the situation is that, as individuals, Egyptians feel that, for the first time ever, their voices might actually count. As a result, Saturday’s turnout at Nasr City polling stations — the majority of which were located on the campuses of different public schools — was in no way limited to eligible voters.(..)
“I was worried fights would break out, that things might turn violent,” admits 22-year-old Fady Selim, who had been standing in line for the past hour with his three friends. “I was also worried because people were talking about members of the Muslim Brotherhood showing up, to try to convince us to vote ‘yes’ on the amendments and that things might heat up then, but so far it’s all been great.”

As I pointed out, the major malfunction here is that the amendments still leave the power to decide who participates in future elections in the hands of those already in power.  In the short run, that means that whoever wins in the upcoming proposed parliamentary elections, will have the power to approve or disapprove future participants and candidates.  With a few less necessary votes, but still leaves that approval in the hands of existing power players.

Then there is the matter of whoever wins the next proposed elections will be the ones writing the constitution.  The liberals and less religiously motivated people are not excited about the MB getting any majority role in this program.  They can see that the MB's approval of the amendments equate to the MB trying to get the same power as the NDP.  New guys same as the old guys, just different names and different ideas on oppressing people's freedom.

In the end, this may be a referendum on the revolution, but it is also, by power of the MB supporting a "yes" vote, a referendum on the Muslim Brotherhood as a political power in Egypt.

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