Voices of Dissent as Egyptian Referendum Threatens Aims of a Revolution

Women in Cairo cast votes Saturday on a controversial draft constitution that opponents say would severely curtail womens rights in Egypt. (Photo: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times)

Voices of Dissent as Egyptian Referendum Threatens Aims of a Revolution

National vote on draft constitution comes after weeks of strife that are unlikely to be settled by referendum's outcome

The secular and pro-democracy revolutionaries who hoped to shred the veil of despotism when they overthrew the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago, urged their fellow Egyptians to vote "No" in Saturday's national referendum on a controversial draft constitution--supported by President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood--saying its adherence to Islamist law and service to state power subverts the rights of women, religious minorities, and the aspirations of a truly democratic Egypt.

Earlier consideration that advocates of women rights, liberals and secular activists--who make up the bulk of the opposition to Morsi--would boycott the vote were exchanged for a call to come out in force to vote and have their dissent heard.

At the polls, Mohamed Ewais explained to the Associated Press why he would vote against the draft.

"I cannot accept a constitution with very limited, very limited actually, rights for minorities, rights for women, rights for even children. It's not suitable for Egypt, actually. We are taking about a country that has been in place for over 210 years as a modern state."

He was not alone. As independent journalist, Sharif Abdel Kouddous tweeted:

Expectations of a large turnout seemed to be confirmed by on the ground reports showing long lines at polling stations, Egyptian news outlet Ahram Online had this report:

"At one point in our history, Cleopatra, a woman, ruled Egypt. Now you have a constitution that makes women not even second-class but third-class citizens," businesswoman Olivia Ghita told the AP. "This constitution is tailored for one specific group (the Muslim Brotherhood). It's a shame. I am very upset."

The New York Timesreports:

The referendum on a new constitution once promised to be a day when Egyptians realized the visions of democracy, pluralism and national unity that defined the 18-day-revolt against the former leader Hosni Mubarak. But then came nearly two years of a chaotic political transition, in which Islamists, liberals, leftists, the military and the courts all jockeyed for power over an ever-shifting timetable.

On Saturday, Egyptians voted on a rushed revision of the old Mubarak charter that many international experts faulted as a missed opportunity, stuffed broad statements about Egyptian identity but riddled with loopholes about the protection of rights.

Human rights groups warned of the possibility of fraud during the voting, which will continue on Dec. 22 because a majority of judges said they would not supervise the vote.

Saturday's vote follows weeks of demonstrations throughout the country, with large numbers of security personnel deployed at the polls.

Putting the recent events in context Dina el-Khawaga, a professor in Cairo University's faculty of economics and political science, explains that the "constitutional declaration and proposed referendum on the new constitution have shown Egypt to have three isolated silos."

Citing "the so-called Islamist camp; the liberal and leftist established opposition supported by some feloul (supporters of the old regime); and the street crowds including the urban youth," she continues by arguing that the present conflict

is neither a confrontation between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary powers, nor a conflict between democratic and authoritarian measures -- it is rather a confused mix of both. The parties to each level of conflict are trying hard to mobilize supporters at the other levels to bestow legitimacy on their own struggle and aspirations.

Despite the remobilization of all forces, the continuation of these parallel conflicts won't necessarily protect the revolution or keep it alive. Most probably, it will exhaust all players, pushing them to take extreme action and dispersing them further over the coming weeks and months.

With the worrying economic downturn and the alarming state of social polarization, the current crisis could eventually cause a legitimacy crisis -- one that could take us back to square one regarding Egypt's democratic transition.

Al-Jazeera released this video news segment on Saturday's vote:

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.