Jared Malsin reports from Cairo: Dozens of men lined the sidewalk outside a school in Cairo’s upper-class Mohandessin neighborhood on Tuesday morning, the first day of voting on Egypt’s new constitution. Soldiers in tan fatigues armed with AK-47s motioned for the men to enter, four or five at a time. Inside the gates, one group of mostly elderly men argued with the army officer in charge. “We can’t find our names on the list!” shouted one man. The officer dialed his cell phone, assuring the man he would find his polling station.
The proposed constitution, drafted under a military-backed government in the months since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July, further insulates the police and armed forces from civilian control and could enshrine the military’s power within the Egyptian state for decades. Nearly three years after a popular uprising forced autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power, Egypt’s security state is triumphant once again. Since Morsi’s removal, more than a thousand people have been killed in a government crackdown on supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. Hundreds of others have been jailed, including journalists and leading activists who opposed Mubarak and Morsi. With most of the media backing the current regime, and much of the public either voicing support for the military or simply resigned to the reality of the current political arrangement, the forces of the 2011 revolution are struggling to be heard.
At three separate polling stations on Tuesday, every voter interviewed backed the constitution. “I believe that this constitution is a very good constitution, and this is just to give a message that we don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood. We want a new regime of freedom and democracy,” says Inas Mazen, a 60-year-old doctor, at a women’s polling station in Mohandessin. Egypt’s Elections Committee on Monday reported that 15% of voters had turned out so far, according to the leading news site Ahram Online. Nine people were killed in violence at polling stations as security forces clashed with protesters, and an explosion hit a courthouse in Cairo’s Imbaba district, causing no reported injuries.
In spite of criticism from rights groups and political dissidents about both the content of the constitution and the integrity of the voting process, the document is expected to be approved by a majority of voters. Recent history suggests voters will choose a concrete constitutional option and the prospect of political stability over the chaos of a no vote. Majorities also voted yes in constitutional referendums in Egypt in 2011 and 2012.
This week’s referendum is also taking place amid government harassment of those opposed to the document. One of the only groups actively urging a no vote, the Strong Egypt Party, suspended its campaign on Sunday after 11 activists were arrested in three separate incidents hanging posters and distributing campaign materials. “It’s a referendum with one choice only, and it’s yes. No is not allowed,” says Strong Egypt Party representative Fekry Nabil. “This process is not free and not fair, and we cannot join it.” [Continue reading…]