Anti-Islamists Still Undecided Over Referendum Boycott

Article Summary
On the eve of the first phase of Egypt’s constitution referendum, secular forces are still debating whether they should boycott or vote against it, Mohammad Ibrahim reports.

After Egypt’s political rift over the past few weeks between forces supporting and opposing President Mohammed Morsi’s referendum  on the Constituent Assembly’s draft constitution — whose first stage starts tomorrow [Dec. 15] — some are wondering what will happen next. Some political forces have mobilized to defeat the draft, while Islamist forces have mobilized to support it. The most probable scenario is that the draft constitution will be approved.

Daoud al-Baz, a member of the Constituent Assembly, said that a "yes" vote would reactivate the Shura Council and automatically eliminate all previous constitutional decrees. He said that if the constitution is passed, the Shura Council would have the right to pass laws and the Constitutional Court would start overseeing any laws pertaining to political, parliamentary and presidential prerogatives. In other words, laws will first be passed by parliament and then sent to the Constitutional Court, which would decide upon their constitutionality, then sent to the president for ratification. But once ratified, the Constitutional Court cannot reconsider those laws. Baz pointed out that approving the constitution means the departure of Vice President Mahmoud Mekki “because the draft constitution has eliminated that post. [If the constitution is passed,] the president will be expected to reshuffle the cabinet and form a new government.”

For his part, member of the Wafd Party’s higher committee Hussein Mansour said that a "yes" vote would greatly widen the gap between the people, trigger a lot of constitutional challenges for pending cases, give the constitution a negative image and collapse the Egyptian economy as a result of demonstrations opposing it.

Constituent Assembly member Huda Ghaniyyeh said that if President Morsi approves the constitution, his duties would become limited to matters of defense, foreign policy and appointing prime ministers. She added that according to the constitution’s mixed system, the prime minister’s role would become limited to general politics, administering interior matters and forming a new cabinet after parliamentary elections.

Former deputy Muhammad Munib said that approving the constitution means strengthening the Islamist current and implementing the Muslim Brotherhood project more broadly. He indicated that if the constitution is approved, seven judges will be expelled from the Constitutional Court.

Cairo University political science professor Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed asserted that “the haphazard decisions made by the government and the presidency will definitely affect voter turnout on the referendum. The citizens will either boycott the vote now that they realize that government's decisions have been haphazard and did not help the situation — whereby government policy changes without warning and the government implements policies that are contrary to what was promised — or they would vote "no" to restart the constitution-drafting process.”

Constituent Assembly member Mohammad Mohieddin predicted that the “the confused political situation” that the Egyptians are witnessing will affect voter turnout. He expected the citizens to vote "no," especially after the National Salvation Front, which includes a number of political parties and civil forces, decided to mobilize the people to vote against the constitution.

Mohammad Wakid, political-bureau member of the National Front for Justice and Democracy, considers the referendum to be a farce and an insult to the people. He said that the draft constitution should be blocked by any means possible, be it by means of voting "no" or boycotting the referendum. He said that a boycott, if the political and revolutionary forces agree to it, will put the Islamist current in a quandary. He stressed that in case the constitution is approved, the crisis will worsen and that the new constitution will be in deep trouble even if it passes the referendum.

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