In post-revolutionary Egypt, interpreting and especially predicting results of polls is a real exercise of Egyptology. Without serious surveys or a history of free elections, it feels like deciphering a hieroglyph before discovering the Rosetta Stone. However, no matter how difficult it is, journalists and analysts need to keep trying. So here there are my reflections about the constitutional referendum that took place yesterday.
-Breaking down the numbers: According to figures published by Egyptian media and the FJP (the Brotherhood’s party), the “yes” won by 56,5% vs 43,5%, a shorter margin than expected. The “no” won in two out of the ten provinces that voted in the first round: Cairo and Garbiya, in the Delta. The victory in the capital was quite impressive: 57%-43%. On the contrary, in the other big city, Alexandria, the “yes” got a ten-point triumph. The turnout was 33%, quite lower than the presidential elections. As expected, the votes in favor of the constitutional draft were higher in the Islamists strongholds, like Asuan or Sohag. However, it also did quite well in some provinces were Shafiq won, like Sharqiya and Daqiliya.
-The Constitution versus Morsi: Many analists predicted a large victory for the “yes” based on the argument that campaigning and mobilizing for a “no” vote is harder. That was correct, but only partially. For many voters, the referendum was not mainly about the Constitution, but a plebiscite on Morsi’s rule, and in general, the Muslim Brotherhood. From my point of view, this explains why Cairo voted strongly against the constitutional draft. Certainly, the Brotherhood can brag about winning all the six electoral contests in post-revolutionary Egypt, but the vote is a warning of a brewing discontent. The results show that Morsi committed a mistake by issuing his constitutional declaration, and later on, pushing for a divisive constitutional draft.
-Islamists, a big and mobilized minority: The votes in favor of the referendum were less than those Morsi received in the presidential elections. A rough projection of yesterday’s result into the second phase, gives the “yes” option less than 10 million votes, while Morsi got 13 million in the second round. This represents a little less than 20% of the census, and I assume that it is the real electoral strength of ideologized Brotherhood and Salafist voters. Maybe there was some rigging, as the opposition and group rights claim, but I think it was not massive.
In total numbers, Islamists currents represent a minority of the 51 million adult Egyptian citizens. However, they have a greater cohesion and determination than their opponents. Islamists have energy and a clear project. While the so-called opposition is a sort of amorphous magma, with no leader, made of shared feelings and contradictory ideas
-And now, what next?: We will have a contested Constitution, which is a bad guide for the new Egypt. Constitutions require large majorities, much larger than the one this draft will get. Most likely, the polarization of the political scene will continue, and even increase, until the next legislative elections, which will be held around the end of February. If reason prevails, the Constitution will be amended in the new Parliament so that its legitimacy is widened.
In order for the country to progress in the short run, both sides, the government and the opposition, Islamists and non-Islamists (or just secular?) must accept the reality of the political landscape. Islamists will be in the driving seat in the coming years, but they cannot rule Egypt unilaterally. They need the consent of an important part of the Egyptian society (both in quantitatively but especially qualitatively). So this requires both negotiation and accommodation. Exactly the two qualities that post-revolutionary Egypt has so far lacked.
PD: Something that should make political leaders of all stripes reflect is the low turnout. One of the main reasons of the Revolution was to increase public participation on how the country was run. Well, the 33% turnout in something as crucial as the Constitution shows that the new regime has so far failed to make an authentic inclusive political system.