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Vote “No” For Democracy?

March 18, 2011

This sign represents a written version of the way they say "no" in southern Egyptian dialect rather than the Modern Standard Arabic you learn in school.

The Constitutional referendum is Mar. 19 and la! (No!) is the slogan I’m hearing everywhere as the debates heat up–some of my friends on Facebook have even changed their photo to a red field calling for “No”

The title of this post is meant to be a pun. Is a “no” vote a vote for democracy, as activists would say, or are they saying “no” to democratic reform, as their opponents insist?

45 million people are eligible to vote today in a straight up-or-down decision on nine changes to the currently suspended 1971 constitution.Most of my friends and colleagues–educated, middle and upper class–want people to vote no. It may seem counterintuitive to vote against changes to the Constituion after having fought so hard for them, but there are many reasons.

While many of the amendments are exactly what was called for in the protests–judicial oversight of elections to prevent fraud, term limits for the president, and so forth–some of my friends and informants in Egypt are unhappy with the amendment that would ban not only anyone with dual citizenship but anyone with a non-Egyptian parent or wife (the latter term suggests that the presidency will only be open to men until the next time they change the Constitution).

Others are concerned that the reforms do not go far enough. They don’t want to tinker with a bad constitution, they want a new constitution altogether, or at least a major rewrite.

Mostly, though, voting “no” seems to be a matter of principle. While it may be commendable that the military wants to move quickly to the election of a civilian government, having the constitution revised by hand-picked people, and sending them to the public for a straight up-or-down vote without time for public debate or comment seems to violate the point of democratic reform.

Both the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood are urging citizens to vote “Yes” in order to bring order to the country and move forward. But most of the planners of the uprisings, as well as political leaders like Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei who aligned themselves with the protesters, are urging boycotts or No votes.

An attractive video on Youtube calling on people to vote no vote is circulating widely thanks to tweets, SMS and Facebook posts.

The real question is, how many will vote today, and how many will heed the calls to either boycott or vote “no”? Or will the silent majority argue — through their votes–that these amendments are enough reform?

For More Information

History of the Egyptian Constitution(s)

Evaluating Egypt’s Proposed Constitutional Amendments

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