Egypt’s First Vote

GettyImages_CairoReferendum_jpg_470x313_q85 Yasmine El Rashidi in the NYRB:

[T]he debate on how to vote in the referendum intensified, on social network sites and TV talk shows. Even the popular youth radio channel 104.2 Nile FM—whose young hosts spin popular Western tunes and invite guests to talk about dating, love and movies—was discussing the constitution. Yes and No camps swiftly took shape. Activists and the upper-middle class were calling for No; they wanted a new constitution and more time to raise political awareness among the nation’s 80 million people. Those who felt the referendum was taking place too soon—a group of reformists that included presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei—hinged their argument on readiness. None of the opposition coalitions and movements had secured the resources or organization to mobilize large numbers in an effective way, and their supporters worried that a Yes victory would result in a parliament divided between the Muslim Brotherhood and members of Mubarak’s old patronage network. Moreover, such a parliament would then be free to redraft the constitution to its liking. “Bad news,” one activist told me. “We’ll all be dead.”

But the limited Cairo- and Alexandria-based campaigns of the No advocates had little chance of winning over the broader public. The Muslim Brotherhood, the ultra-conservative Salafis, and groups affiliated with the former party of Mubarak, the National Democratic Party (NDP), were endorsing the amendments and targeting their efforts at the working classes, laborers, and farmers. The Muslim Brotherhood—the largest and most organised movement apart, perhaps, from the remaining political network of the former regime itself—initially distributed flyers urging the Yes vote as a religious obligation. But activists and the media quickly got wind of this strategy—stirring up long-standing suspicions about an underlying Brotherhood agenda to turn Egypt into an Islamist state—and it adopted the more palatable slogan, “Yes is a vote for stability.” The day before the referendum, around noon, I could hear from my desk the distant sound of an Imam promoting Yes-for-stability in his Friday sermon; there were reports that the same was taking place at mosques across the country.