Breakfast Wrap: Egypt’s Constitution and Why The Wheel Won’t Turn

Early results in Egypt’s referendum on a draft constitution has put supporters with a narrow lead with an unofficial tally placing backers of the charter with 56.5% of the vote.

Though voting will continue in other parts of Egypt next week, Saturday’s vote is important because it represents Cairo and Alexandria, the nation’s two biggest cities.  The areas represent the stronghold of the opposition to the constitution.

Conflicting results from the Muslim Brotherhood and the main opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, showed both claimed victory. However in past votes, the Brotherhood’s preliminary numbers have closely matched final results, will be announced after the December 22 second round vote.

Yesterday’s ballots show the referendum is likely to be passed and the challenge now rests with the country’s president Mohammed Morsi, who has already undermined confidence in the democratic transition and economy.  He campaigned with billboards that read: With the Constitution, the wheel will turn”But reality paints a different picture.

The most punishing challenges are ahead for Morsi:

  • Morsi’s mandate will be slim and he will find himself in an untenable position at times where tough austerity measures will be harder to enforce without serious backlash. His credibility is already wavering with a large part of Egypt because of his decision to hold a referendum without the support of the opposition.
  • Morsi is weaker than he has ever been. Every day that passes, the president makes a move that is met with resounding protest and opposition. His back-flip over tax reforms and the International Monetary Fund loan have only offered proof to his critics that he is not presidential material.  This is not necessarily because of the nature of the reforms but how he chooses to deliver the message, that is, almost always in a void with little communication and explanation to the public.
  • In the streets, chants of “Get out Khairat al Shater” can be heard. It is reminiscent of the protests last year against Mubarak’s gang of corrupt businessmen including Ahmed Ezz. There are mounting concerns over Morsi’s clique, especially Al Shater, a Brotherhood businessman who appears to have a great influence over the country, but who remains a mystery to most. Transparency is not Al Shater’s strong point.
  • Finally, the constitution itself has raised questions over how the Egyptian economy will run, including improved labour rights and whether these are addressed in the constitution and the dominant interpretation of Islamic Sharia and how this could influence banking and finance.  Yet more important than the constitution’s many flaws “is the context in which it is being proposed,” this Economist article argues:

When Mr Morsi captured the presidency in June by a slim margin, he signalled magnanimity by formally quitting the Muslim Brotherhood and appointing a largely technocratic government. Egyptians cheered in August when he removed the domineering generals who had shakily guided the post-revolutionary transition.

But Mr Morsi has proven equally erratic and domineering. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, has infiltrated state institutions. It has tried to shape the message of the state-owned press, arranged for its members to distribute government-subsidised goods, and quietly scaled back family-planning programmes.


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