Voters in Egypt flocked to the polls on Tuesday in the country’s third referendum in the three years since Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was removed. The new draft constitution, if passed, will be seen as a milestone in the transition toward democracy spearheaded by the country’s military government.
The country has encountered many bumps in its road toward democracy, culminating in the recent military-backed coup that saw the removal of former president Mohammed Morsi from power. Morsi’s removal has been met with mass protests from members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group Morsi represented.
Many in Egypt see voting in favor of the new constitution as a vote of confidence in Morsi’s removal, however this is not stopping opposition groups from voicing their unhappiness with the vote. The Muslim Brotherhood has called on its members to boycott the vote and stage protests, which have been met with a brutal crackdown by the state. Reportedly, officials believe the boycott and protests to be an attempt to justify an illegal coup attempt.
On Tuesday, Brotherhood members reportedly staged protests in four cities, with police arresting 65 protestors. The state security apparatus has been at the helm of a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood member dissent which has so far seen widespread arrests and even deaths. In the months since Morsi and the Brotherhood lost control of the government in Egypt, that crackdown has seen over 1,000 dead and thousands more arrested.
The state has been watching the political climate on the streets carefully, arresting any who seek to campaign for a ‘no’ vote during the polls. Many have so far been arrested for attempting to hang up ‘vote no’ posters on the streets. The Brotherhood itself has been officially called a terrorist organization. It is now a criminal offense to be a member. Financial assets for the Islamist group have been frozen and seized, and its leaders thrown in jail. Despite this, protests have persisted. The authorities have encountered a series of bombings, with the latest occurring on Tuesday morning at a courthouse in the Imbaba neighborhood, outside of Giza. The building was damaged, but nobody was injured in the explosion.
However, despite the unrest, many in Egypt remain optimistic regarding the future of the country, and see the vote as a positive step forward.
“I will vote ‘yes’ and everyone will vote ‘yes’ because we want the country to move forward and we want security”, said Cairo taxi driver Ahmed Ali while waiting in line to vote on Tuesday.
For many, years of instability and violence have taken a toll on a country already marred by poverty and high unemployment. The vote on Tuesday can also be seen as a vote for stability both in the economic and security sectors.
Attacking the legitimacy of the Brotherhood has also been a topic of discourse within voter circles. Many are seeing a vote in the polls as a blow to the beleaguered Muslim Brotherhood. In light of the boycott, and the assertion being made by state-run media outlets that people will be “judged” by their vote, some simply claim that a vote in favor of the new constitution is merely falling in line with the people in power to avoid the repercussions facing those responsible for the protests. Regardless, the unrest in Egypt is likely just beginning, and there is much more of this story to unfold in the days ahead.
By Hamid A. Shahosaini