CAIRO — An amendment to Egypt’s referendum laws on Monday banning voters from casting their ballots except in constituencies where they are registered confirmed that President Mohammed Morsi is going ahead with the controversial referendum.
The abrupt amendment of the referendum laws that were drawn by the interim military government in 2011 meant that the number of citizens voting on Egypt’s postrevolution constitution — the first to be written since the 1971 constitution that consolidated Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years of dictatorship — will significantly shrink.
Only four days before voters cast their ballots, questions were raised about the intent behind the amendments, as millions of Egyptians are forced to leave their hometowns in search of jobs and better living standards.
The southern coast of the Sinai Peninsula is Egypt’s main example of those who will be excluded from the referendum by the new law. Some 300,000 workers, who come from every governorate across the country, are employed by hundreds of hotels, resorts and other tourist facilities in the towns of Sharm El-Sheikh, Taba, Dahab and Newiba.
Shortly before the 2012 presidential elections that brought Morsi to power, Sinai’s tourism sector workers threatened to strike if they weren’t allowed to cast absentee ballots in polling stations close to their work places.
Judge Ahmed Sallam, official spokesman of the Ministry of Justice, said that “such measurements were applied to guarantee fairness and transparency throughout the December 15 referendum.”
The election and referendum laws applied in the March 2011 referendum, November 2011 parliament elections and the June 2012 presidential elections failed to set a minimum voters turnout that if not met the electoral process becomes invalid.
Under such laws, the results of an election process are accepted even if the turnout is only one million voters, a semi-blind process that only sees numerical figures but fails to reflect national will. President Morsi was elected with about 12.3 million votes in a country of around 90 million citizens and more than 50 million registered voters.
Abdelsattar El-Balshi, a prominent lawyer who filed a lawsuit appealing the candidacy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat El-Shater before the June 2012 presidential elections, told Al-Monitor: “It is not a matter of 51% wins, Morsi and his government apparently don’t understand that Egyptians are seeking a constitution that will satisfy the hopes of decades to come. The minimum turnout should match what is applied in parliament when voting on laws.
“If passing or amending a law requires the votes of two thirds of parliament then you should as well grant that to the public who originally elected members of the legislative authority,” El-Balshi continued.
Meanwhile, the judiciary’s capability to administrate a nationwide referendum remains uncertain amid spreading boycott calls by judges and prosecutors who viewed Morsi’s Nov. 22 decree that granted him immunity as an unprecedented violation on the judiciary.
Morsi’s decision on Dec. 9 to annul his controversial decree after massive opposition protests and bloody clashes across the country failed to absorb the judiciary’s anger.
Judge Ahmed El-Zend, head of the independent Judges Club, announced in a news conference Tuesday morning: “90% of Egypt’s judges refuse to take part in administrating the constitutional referendum.”
Judge Zakaria Abdelaziz, former head of the Judges Club, told the local Al-Jazeera Live Egypt Tuesday: “If the number of judges participating does not reach the 11,000 needed to cover the nationwide polling stations, then the referendum could be held in two phases or polling stations could be combined.”
Abdelaziz denied El-Zend’s claims and called on judges to refrain from boycotting.
No official statements regarding the number of participating judges were made by either the Ministry of Justice or the Elections Committee overseeing the referendum.
The opposition’s front included dozens of leftist, liberal and democratic parties that did not endorse Morsi in the first round of elections in June 2012. In the second round, he managed to garner 7 million of the 17 million votes that originally went to his competitors.
Tarek Hosni, a political analyst, told Al-Monitor: “All those votes that didn’t go directly to Morsi in the first round of presidential elections will be against the constitution, except for an estimated 1 million Salafists who voted for Abdelmonem Abolfotoh but returned and continue to support Morsi. Those are all indicators that national consensus was never reached over this constitution and that Morsi is turning a blind eye on the opposition, he is struggling for 51% of the voters to pass the constitution, regardless what they represent or which sect of the community they come from.”
Hosni believes that rushing to end a political crisis
he instigated, Morsi left no time for dialogue, consensus, or even preparation of laws and practical measures to guarantee a fair referendum that reflects the public’s will.
“And if this crippled document they call constitution passes, it will barely represent less than a quarter of Egypt,” said Hosni.
Mohannad Sabry is an Egyptian journalist based in Cairo. He has written for McClatchy Newspapers and
The Washington Times, served as managing editor of Global Post's reporting fellowship "Covering the Revolution" in Cairo as well as a contributor to its special reports "Tahrir Square" and "Egypt: the military, the people." Sabry was nominated to the 2011 Livingston Award for International Reporting. Born in Saudi Arabia and raised around the world, Sabry returned to Cairo in 2001 and has been covering Egypt since 2005. Follow him on Twitter: @mmsabry.