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What Does The Egyptian Referendum Mean? A Quick Editorial Roundup

January 16, 2014

Is this a referendum on a new constitution or on the presidential bid of General As-Sisi? Or are they the same thing? Photo Credit: sierragoddess via Compfight cc

Is this a referendum on a new constitution or on the presidential bid of General As-Sisi? Or are they the same thing? Photo Credit: sierragoddess via Compfight cc

Will the Egyptian constitutional referendum pass? And if so, what will it mean? And what comes next?

Who better to answer such questions than the leading editorialists of the Middle East’s top newspapers? Here’s a brief review of four of them, two Egyptian and two from neighboring places.

Al-Ahram, which has returned to its traditional role as a slavish supporter of whatever regime happens to be in power, assures us through an editorial by Gamil Afifi entitled “Egypt is moving forward and the dogs are barking” that the passage of the referendum is an assured thing because “Our great people” will never fail “to confront those terrorist elements” who want to “turn back the country through a dark tunnel into the eras of ignorance” “under the slogan of religion” but “religion, God and His Prophet have nothing to do with this group.”

I use all those quotations because this editorial is so overwritten one almost wonders if Mr. Afifi is secretly laughing at his audience. The conclusion gives you a feeling for the style of the thing:

This day represents a wedding for Egypt by all means. Millions will be saying “yes” to Egypt’s new constitution. They will refuse to take one step back. By taking part in the referendum, they will be dealing a blow to the terrorist MB group and its supporters abroad. Thus, the convoy of progress will be moving forward; Egypt will appear before its people and the world as the source of civilization; and dogs will keep barking to no avail. The will of the people will win and the traitors will remain alone, rejected by the great people.

In a more sober vein, the United Arab Emirates newspaper Al-Khaleej has no doubt that voting “Yes” for the new constitution is the only way forward for the ongoing Egyptian revolution. In its lead editorial entitled “The First Step,” it warns Egyptians that they need a constitution before they can have Parliamentary or presidential elections, or re-organization of any social or political institutions.

Of course, voting yes won’t be easy, because

the anti-revolution forces are working hard and using all the available means of violence, terrorism and external support to abort the revolution. As the Egyptian masses become aware of their right to change, this will definitely lead to aborting all the efforts of the Muslim Brothers’ group and the Takfiri forces and their supporters who are working on putting sticks in the wheels of the revolution

So in the editorialist’s opinion, the MB are anti-revolutionary, and the new military government have become the de facto guardians of moving the revolution forward.

But not everyone agrees. Al-Quds al-Arabi carried an unsigned lead editorial entitled “The referendum and the reproduction of the Pharaoh principle.” This editorialist makes the case that the Egyptian military are just as anti-revolutionary as the Muslim Brotherhood, if not more so.

The editorialist writes that in its intensive promotion of a “yes” vote, the Egyptian military used apparatus used every tool at its disposal:

whether through private and public media outlets spanning newspapers, radio stations and television channels, by putting up posters in every street and neighborhoods, conducting door-to-door campaigns, sending text messages or hosting popular conferences with the participation of senior officials and clerics.

Seven members of the Strong Egypt Party, which advocates an end to arrests and trials of civilians by the military, were found carrying posters advocating a “No” vote, and promptly arrested by the military proving, the editorial said, that Egypt was returning “to the Pharaonic principle.”

But will As-Sisi be able to rule as a Pharaoh? Not according to an editorial by Dr. Amr Hashem Rabih in the Egyptian Al-Masry al-Yawm newspaper. He sees a different role (or range of them) for As-Sisi. In an editorial entitled, “Referendum to Determine Al-Sisi’s Position,”  he opines that there are three possibilities:

  1. If the referendum passes by only a slim margin, with modest voter turnout, As-Sisi will abandon both politics and the military.
  2. If the referendum passes by less than a two-thirds vote, As-Sisi will will not run for president, but will stay on as a key military player, perhaps as Minister of Defense, providing strong stability against the Muslim Brotherhood, who have (Dr. Rabih says) recently been chanting “You toppled our president, we will topple yours.”
  3. If the referendum passes by more than two-thirds, he will run for president and likely be elected. Whereupon the people will demand he do something about the economy which, as a military man, he is ill equipped to do. Then the very people who elected him will turn against him.

Almost makes one feel sorry for General As-Sisi.

So there you have it: Nobody doubted that the referendum would pass. The real questions were what would the referendum’s passage mean for

  • General As-Sisi,
  • The Muslim Brotherhood, and
  • the future of Egypt’s ongoing revolution.

Thanks to MidEastWire for access to the editorials.

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