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No winners from Egypt’s constitution vote

Referendum debacle again exposed elitist approach of politicians who appear completely disconnected from the street.
Last modified: 26 Dec 2012 00:07

The vote has ended, but the controversy and the national divide live on.

Although  two-thirds of Egyptians who voted chose to endorse the controversial constitution, the 33 percent turnout was the worst in any key vote since the revolution in 2011.

The opposition feels emboldened by that, saying it backs their arguments against the legitimacy of the constitution and goes to show that the majority of Egyptians were not happy with it.

What the opposition is not acknowledging, however, is that the low turnout actually shows that both its leadership, as well as the president’s camp, have failed to lure people to vote at all.

Some say there’s a form of “election fatigue” in Egypt, but I did not sense that when talking to the those who lined up to cast their vote in Alexandria or Giza.

What I did sense was that many of the people who showed up came with a heavy heart. The deadly violence preceding the vote and the ongoing tug-of- war between the president and the opposition overshadowed the vote and stole Egypt’s “constitutional moment”.

The actual process of voting was also grueling for many. Painfully long queues and delays showed that this vote was poorly organized when compared to previous elections; the withdrawal of many judges from supervising, as well as the rushed timeframe, had apparent effect.

After the dust settled, neither opponents nor supporters of the charter have shown any serious signs of compromise. This is just one more aspect adding to the public’s disillusionment.

Many people I talked to on the streets said they are deeply disappointed at all politicians alike. Islamic groups lost ground when they allowed their supporters to tear down the opposition’s sit-in outside the presidential palace. Meanwhile, respect for the opposition is eroding after its repeated refusal to have any dialogue with the president.

 The two sides will have to show signs of compromise, whether they like it or not. There are several laws complementing the constitution that still need to be passed.

The dismal state of the economy is another key priority that the two sides need to discuss. The government has been talking about rolling out austerity measures and both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have necessitated “broad consensus” before extending a helping hand to Egypt.

Without some sort of consensus, the government will not be able to sell to the public any tax hikes or economic measures. Festering anger over life’s daily struggles, such as putting bread on the table, can once again push people to the streets the way it did during the uprising.

The constitution’s debacle brought to light again one of the main problems with the political process in Egypt since the revolution, namely the elitist approach of politicians who continue to appear completely disconnected from the street.