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A recent survey conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research shows that 75 per cent of the electorate will head to the ballot on January 14 to vote on yet another batch of constitutional amendments.
The survey revealed that 74 per cent will vote yes, three per cent will vote no, and 23 per cent say they are still undecided.
This is the third referendum in as many years since Hosni Mubarak, the longest-serving president in Egypt’s modern history, was overthrown.
Shaima El-Elaimy, an advocate of civilian rule who has been involved in a number of street protests and grassroots campaigns since the January 25, 2011 revolution, says the referendum will produce a yes vote and the constitution will pass.
She also believes that the commemoration of the third anniversary of the revolution next week will in fact be a stepping stone for the current Defense Minister Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi to declare his candidacy for upcoming presidential elections.
On January 11, El-Sissi said he was looking for a mandate from the people before deciding whether to run for president.
“The people will be out on the streets in full force to beg El-Sissi to run for president,” El-Elaimy says, adding that “the events of January 25, 2011 will effectively be erased from our memories, and we will have our fourth dictatorship”.
El-Elaimy’s pessimism is reflected in fierce social media debates where some joke that one of Mubarak’s still incarcerated sons will run in this year’s presidential election.
But the prospect of a Mubarak family member making a comeback may be a bit too much for some to swallow.
“I personally was shocked to see a banner for Gamal Mubarak running for president in 2014. I was even more shocked when I found out that many – including my friends and family – might even vote for him,” says Dalia Hamed, Managing Director of ComStratEg, a media research and consultancy firm.
While the Egyptians’ joviality and spirited jest endures on the cusp of political realism, there is a feeling that the country has come unhinged, its society fatigued by the endless political debates, bloodied protests, and growing social discord.
Hamed says that with the economy in near standstill since 2011 and the Egyptian pound devalued by 16 per cent, many yearn not for dictatorship, but the relative stability that the Mubarak regime represented.
“For the layman, the situation over the course of the last three years was so bad that they actually lament for Mubarak days. This is how fragmented the situation has become.”
Egypt: Four scenarios
As one activist put it, Egypt’s social, economic and political divisions have never been more pronounced.
He says that there are essentially four versions of Egypt being played out on the streets and in the media.
In one scenario, an optimistic and defiant group believe that El-Sissi is leading Egypt in an existential fight against domestic and foreign terrorists – personified in the Muslim Brotherhood.
For their part, members of the Muslim Brotherhood still see an Islamist Egypt within reach; that they are on the cusp of a great victory as people slowly come to fear the depth of police crackdowns and violence on dissent and free speech.
Then there are the self-described realists who may not support the military-backed government or the Brotherhood but see an Egypt mired in wave after wave of violent, if not revolutionary, protests.
In the fourth scenario, ‘revolutionaries’ who braved security forces week after week in hopes of a new Egypt feel caught between two “fascist” trajectories.
“Quite a few have left the country… more [are] planning to leave,” he says.
American University in Cairo graduate Salma Hegab sees her nation divided, but is not ready to completely give up.
She has been engaged in grassroots activism, mobilising people in hopes of bringing social and political accountability, and democracy to Egypt.
She has participated in a number of social media campaigns and networked with other young like-minded activists.
But she, and many like her, is caught between the ongoing struggle between those who support the military-backed interim government and those who want the deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi reinstated.
In June 2012, Morsi was elected in a democratic poll, arguably the first free and fair election in post-Mubarak Egypt.
Morsi promised to include members of the opposition in government, to reinvigorate the country’s debilitated economy, and to make Egypt a lucrative investment destination.
When Morsi began to consolidate his power by issuing a constitutional declaration that appeared to limit criticism and dissent of his leadership, tens of thousands of people returned to the streets.
Following a rushed referendum drafted by a largely Islamist constituent assembly, violence in Egypt spiraled out of control as supporters and opponents of the embattled president clashed again. And again.
The violence became deadlier and more brutal.
“I’d say it [the revolution] has been derailed,” Hegab says of the social justice movement she worked so hard for, “[but]I feel it’s hard to entirely lose hope just in three years”.
“From the beginning we should have known that reaching democracy is a process that can take a lifetime,” she adds.
Hegab, however, has chosen to vote no in tomorrow’s referendum because she feels that the people who drafted the constitutional amendments do not represent her.
“It [draft constitution] does not reach the minimum level of my aspirations – it does not
guarantee free and fair rights for all Egyptians,” she says.
Boycott or vote ‘no’
The April 6 opposition movement, which was at the frontlines of the protests and demonstrations calling for social justice and civilian rule three years ago (and since), initially called for its supporters to vote no in the referendum on the draft constitution.
“We are rejecting many of the articles [in the constitution], one of which is the military trials which we also opposed in the 2012 constitution and voted no and even had a Vote No campaign all over Egypt at that time,” Sawsan Gharib, a US coordinator and spokesperson for the April 6 movement, told The BRICS Post.
But on January 8, the movement announced that it would boycott the referendum and urged Egyptians to do the same.
It will be a hard sell.
According to preliminary results for absentee ballots, a majority of voters have already voted yes.
And religious leaders such as Coptic Pope Tawadros II, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mosque – even the Salafist Nour party, have urged their followers to head to the ballot box.
Nervana Mahmoud, an Egypt observer and blogger, agrees that while the country is polarised, there remains considerable support for the military’s deposing of Morsi last July.
She says that the popular debate now is not whether Egypt is still in revolution mode, but how best to ensure that it stabilises after three tumultuous, and often violent years.
The violence has increased in recent months.
Since security forces forcibly dispersed pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood camps in a section of Cairo near the presidential palace on August 14 – the ensuing clashes left at least 600 people dead and more than 4,000 injured – there has been some kind of violence almost every week.
Clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and security personnel have continued at Al Azhar University since October; Egyptian military personnel have been attacked and killed in the Sinai and northern Egypt; the Minister of Interior survived an assassination attempt and police stations and military barracks have come under attack.
On December 23, a car bomb destroyed part of a five-story security headquarters in Mansoura in the Daqahliya province north of Cairo.
The government immediately blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the attack and classified it a terrorist organisation, effectively ending any hopes of political integration, let alone reconciliation.
By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post