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Egypt says yes to constitutional amendments

[Editor's note: Dr. Azza Sedky, a Communications and ESL instructor at Capilano University, was in Cairo during the winter when popular unrest overthrew the Mubarak government. She is now watching events in Egypt from Vancouver.]

Via Skype, I had asked my close Egyptian friends, the Eids, if they will be voting on the constitution amendments on March 19, 2011. Their response was swift, "Absolutely." The Eids, like many other Egyptians, had not voted before.

Via Facebook, and as a preamble to her voting mission, another friend quoted a religious verse: "I'm depending on You [God] in all my endeavours," she wrote, transcending this simple vote to a totally different level. Upon her return from voting, she again wrote, "Done it! I've voted for the first time in my life."

And across all Egypt the voting turnout was truly humbling. The voter lineups zigzagged around blocks and wound up narrow staircases, with voters seeming quite content to queue for hours. The physically challenged and the ninety-year-old walked up these stairs to vote. This is a remarkable achievement for a people that had never bothered to vote, and never even lined up, for that matter.

But the ultimate change is seen in Safeya, my mom's illiterate caregiver. The concept of voting had never occurred to her before, but this time round, she exercised her right; as she was voting, someone asked her whom she would be voting for, and she responded proudly, "I'm free to vote whichever way I please." This is not only remarkable but truly phenomenal.

The desire to vote has been the first transformation that the revolution produced: it created passion in a people usually unconcerned and apathetic, and it made them believe in their voice and vote. Kudos to the revolution.

In hindsight, I wish I had asked the Eids whether they were voting for or against the amendments. It didn't seem as vital then to know how they would vote as that they would indeed vote. However, the choice that the Egyptians made is quite critical.

And the results are out: with 41 percent of eligible voters voting, 77 percent said yes to the constitution amendments. Eighteen million Egyptians exercised their voting rights. This clearly reflects the views of the people and predicts the results of elections yet to come.

What does this result say about what Egyptians want? Will it lead Egypt towards a democratic path or towards the bleak unknown?

One group, the "No" group, saw the amendments as falling short of the required changes. They wanted the old constitution revamped completely, believing that the amendments are mere patchwork. They also feared that a "Yes" would lead to a hasty presidential election, and that many non-mainstream parties would not have had the chance to establish their paths and platforms, and to promote themselves.

The educated are the ones leading this group. They are mostly in Cairo and other big cities, voicing their concerns in the media and social media. They heard one another but in reality did not reach ordinary Egyptians.

The "Yes" voters are formed of two groups. First are those who want this period of instability over. They believed the ratified amendments would return Egypt back to normalcy sooner than later. And they are relieved by the results.

But alongside the stability seekers in saying yes are the already prepared and quite developed parties -- for example, the Wafd Party, the National Democratic Party, but most importantly, the Muslim Brotherhood. They all have been in the political arena for years. And the Muslim Brothers, in particular, pursued the act of winning people over carefully and methodically.

Clearly, the "No" followers were unable to get their views out to the ordinary Egyptian. To establish a following, they would have had to work harder on promoting the causes they preach, widening their circle, and reaching the Egyptian on the street.

The Egyptians they want to pursue don't read about democracy on Twitter and Facebook; indeed, the "No" group would have had to follow Egyptians physically -- in the field, the factory, and rural Egypt. This is the only way to reach these people since one in every four Egyptians is illiterate. This means that over 20 million adult Egyptians can neither read nor write, let alone surf and browse.

By comparison, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to amass a substantial following. Not only did they appear in TV broadcasts and newspapers, but they also congregated, lectured, placed ads in newspapers, and alluded to the connection between saying yes and Islam. It is a democracy after all, and everyone is free to say what one wishes.

The Muslim Brotherhood had the means and the followers to put a good front and maybe even sway people to vote yes. It is quite clear that Egypt is an open field now for all players, and not only good strategy but also manipulation will play a prominent role.

All this leaves the "No" group in a predicament: how fast can they work to catch up with the prepared?

It is with great trepidation that I watch from afar.

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