For the record, the results of last week’s constitutional referendum are in — voters approved Egypt’s new constitution by a margin of 98.13% to 1.87%, though on a turnout of just 38.6%.
With the opponents of the new constitution boycotting the vote, including the supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the lopsided margin makes some sense. The turnout was higher than the 32.9% recorded for the December 2012 constitutional referendum hastily organized to approve the Islamist-friendly constitution promulgated by former president Mohammed Morsi, and it’s only a little lower than the 41.9% turnout in the March 2011 constitutional referendum when optimism ran highest after the collapse of the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.
But it’s not a great sign for Egyptian democracy that such wide majorities endorsed two very contradictory visions for Egypt’s constitution within the same 13-month period. It’s also not a great sign that the ‘July 3’ regime, the military government that ousted Morsi last summer and headed by interim president Adly Mansour and defense minister and armed forces chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, dispersed and harassed opponents of the new constitution in the days leading up to the vote. By most accounts, the current government hasn’t been as heavy-handed as the Mubarak regime in the 2005 and 2010 votes, which amounted to show elections, but that’s setting the standard for Mansour and El-Sisi fairly low.
Amnesty International on Wednesday harshly condemned the military regime’s use of force and the infringement of human rights since taking power seven months ago. The interim government has repeatedly used lethal force to break up protests, largely in support of the Morsi regime. In a world where the government continues to refuse to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to compete freely and fairly, though, a cloud of doubt will hang over not only the constitutional referendum, but the next two sets of elections.
It’s worth noting that the new constitution marks an improvement in some areas over the 2012 constitution that Morsi pushed through (after initially trying to take dictatorial powers in November 2012) — it theoretically holds Egypt to the standard of international treaties on human rights, takes a zero-tolerance approach to torture, reduces the role of Islam in governance, and improves women’s rights and the rights of religious minorities.
So what comes next?
Saturday is the third anniversary of the ‘January 25’ revolution that ousted Mubarak from power, and it could be a tense day throughout Egypt. Three years after the widespread protests that converged on Tahrir Square in Cairo, the young revolutionaries must be disappointed at how the revolution has turned out — Egypt’s economy is even worse than it was three years ago, and the political process has been reset once again after too many false starts.
Politically, Mansour will call the first set of elections within three months — he can choose to hold either the parliamentary or the presidential elections first. The second elections will follow within three more months. So ideally, Egypt should have an elected executive and parliament by the end of July 2014.
All eyes are currently on El-Sisi, who seems increasingly likely to run for president in his own right. Despite his massive popularity, an El-Sisi run might show the same brand of overreach that Morsi showed in his one-year presidency. If Morsi’s chief error was to reject input from the military, liberals and other voices outside the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to govern by will and without collaboration with the rest of civil society, El-Sisi could make the same error by uniting democratic activists, what remains of the Tahrir movement, Morsi’s liberal opponents and Morsi’s Islamist supporters alike — all against what appears to be the military’s consolidation of power. Even if he runs and wins the Egyptian presidency later this year, El-Sisi would carry into office the whiff of ‘Mubarak 2.0,’ especially if the interim government he leads continues to detain opposition forces, ignore human rights and refuse to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to compete openly.
If El-Sisi runs, it seems very likely that he’ll win, in light of the personality cult that he’s built over the past seven months as a dutiful army leader and a pious (if moderate) Muslim.
Though the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (حزب الحرية والعدالة), won both sets of parliamentary elections in 2011 and 2012, and though Morsi won the presidency by a narrow margin in June 2012 against former air force commander Ahmed Shafiq, who himself had ties to the armed forces and the old Mubarak regime, it seems unlikely that the interim government will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to run a candidate — or that the Brotherhood would even want to legitimate the current regime by participating in elections.
The Salafist Al-Nour Party (حزب النور, Arabic for ‘Party of the Light’), which came in second in both parliamentary elections, says it won’t field a candidate for president in 2014, though it has spent the past seven months walking a fine line, giving Mansour and El-Sisi some Islamist credibility. After popular Salafist preacher Hazem Abu Ismail was disqualified from the 2012 presidential race, the Al-Nour Party didn’t field a candidate, but it ultimately endorsed Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who embraced a kind of moderate, democratic Islamist platform. Though he finished fourth in first in the May 2012 first round of the presidential race, Aboul Fatouh still won 17.5% of the vote, within a few percentage points of Morsi (24.8%), Shafiq (23.7%) and third-placed Hamdeen Sabahi (20.7%).
One weathervane will be Tamarod (تـمـرد), the political movement born out of the anti-Morsi protests of June 2013. Another will be the National Salvation Front ( جبهة الإنقاذ الوطني) that’s headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the former secretary-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and, briefly, Mansour’s vice president until ElBaradei stepped down in protest against the government’s killing of pro-Morsi protesters in August 2013.
Sabahi, a liberal nationalist who styles himself as a neo-Nasserite figure and is committed to a 2014 presidential run, would probably gain the most if El-Sisi decides against a run. Mansour, Aboul Fotouh and former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa have ruled out presidential runs (Moussa has indicated he supports an El-Sisi run), but it’s possible they would reconsider if El-Sisi stands down. Shafiq, the 2012 runner-up, might also run.
Other prominent figures include Mostafa Hegazy, a top Mansour advisor. Fluent in English and somewhat of a management/strategic planning type, Hegazy has fans in both the militarist and democratic camps.