The outcome is very much in doubt, with some of the same figures who led the opposition to President Hosni Mubarak now calling for “no” votes on the referendum to signal discontent with the hasty, patchwork process. Critics say the rush to balloting works against democracy because it risks vote fraud, disruption and intimidation of the electorate, in part because overall security is still not up to strength to ward off attacks by members of the former regime.
“It’s too tight a time frame for the first democratic test of Egypt since the democratic revolution,” Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political scientist and research director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, said. “We haven’t even seen the final amendments yet.”
Hamzawy said the balloting should be postponed for several weeks. Others also have called for longer delays to completely revamp Egypt’s governing document, rather than taking a piecemeal approach. Under the timeline laid out by the country’s ruling military council, the Saturday referendum will be followed by parliamentary elections and presidential balloting in relatively short order.
The referendum, which official media said would be supervised by 16,000 judicial authorities with assistance from the police, is the first in decades that doesn’t amount to a sham whose outcome is controlled by the ruling party. The most significant of the proposed amendments would curb the runaway executive powers exercised for more than 30 years by Mubarak, who was overthrown Feb. 11. These would limit future Egyptian presidents to two four-year terms, allow for easier formation of political parties and provide legislative and electoral checks on attempts to declare lengthy periods of emergency rule.
As such, the amendments would appear to partly satisfy demands of protesters who brought down Mubarak. But that hasn’t guaranteed support for the measures.
The eight amendments have to be voted up or down in a bloc, which doesn’t suit some groups, who wanted voters to be able to endorse them individually. Some critics have called for a “no” vote as a signal that the old constitution should be scrapped — essentially saying that putting a new pro-democratic gloss on the constitution is like grafting healthy skin on a rotting corpse.
“The constitution as we know it now is very faulty,” said Ghadar Sharbander, a board member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. “We consider this constitution not valid. And therefore there is no reason to amend it — it needs a complete rewrite.” The organization said it opposes the amendments and will closely monitor the referendum, but it is not urging a boycott.