While a majority of Egyptians who cast their votes on the Islamist-sponsored constitution on Saturday voted for its approval, the surprisingly low voter turnout and the narrow margin with which it was passed are re-igniting the fierce battle for Egypt’s political direction, most Arab headlines state.
“Islamists in Egypt aim to build on outcome of constitutional referendum,” reads the leading story of the liberal London-based daily Al-Hayat. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party gave themselves a metaphorical pat on the back for carrying out the referendum “with efficiency and order” after the constitution passed with nearly 57% of the vote.
However, since only a third of eligible Egyptian voters turned out for the first round of voting and the constitution was approved with such a narrow majority, Egypt’s main political opposition movement, the National Salvation Front, is calling for a complete abolition of the draft constitution, saying the document reveals anything but a clear national consensus. Supporters of the opposition are expected to launch mass demonstrations against the constitutional process on Tuesday, and clashes with Muslim Brotherhood loyalists have already begun.
Critics argue that the draft constitution puts Egypt on the path toward becoming a new Islamic republic, endangers the rights of minorities, and will result in a stifling of the country’s economic and social progress.
But that’s no excuse to boycott the referendum entirely, according to a surprising statement by Dr. Mustafa Najjar published in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. Dr. Najjar is a former member of Parliament for the liberal Justice party, which merged with leading opposition activist Mohammed ElBaradei’s Constitution party in October.
Disagreeing with the opposition’s call to boycott the constitutional referendum it publicly supported only a week ago, he said, “The call to demonstrate against the constitutional referendum now is absurd. The opposition’s battle now should be a battle to build awareness and a network of access to the villages and hamlets of Egypt before the second round of voting. We should not guarantee a loss for ourselves because of our own actions.”
‘The call to demonstrate against the constitutional referendum now is absurd.’
Still, it’s no surprise that few opposition activists are singing the same tune as Najjar. The Doha-based Arabic media network Al-Jazeera reports evidence of “many irregularities” at polling stations throughout the country, including delayed openings, intimidation by Brotherhood members, and the discarding of ballots. In short, the opposition is going up against an Islamist movement that chooses not to play by democratic rules.
The problem is the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to portray this conflict “as a story of good versus evil,” writes Dr. Ata’ollah Mohajerani, a London-based Iranian scholar and Iran’s former minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, in an op-ed in the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat.
“If you voted in favor of the constitution, (the Brotherhood) says you uphold Islam and Islamic culture. If you vote against the Constitution, you are an enemy of Islam…. This is causing a rift and real divisions between many segments within Egyptian society. This discord needs a psychiatrist to cure it.”
Unfortunately, the discord seems to be rising to new levels in some parts of the country. Al-Quds Al-Arabi has received information that supporters of hard-line Salafist political parties have torched the headquarters of the liberal Wafd party. Party chairman Sayyid Badawi cried out afterwards about how shameful it is that “the powers that be do not enforce the law and provide security. This sends a dangerous message to Egyptians that that rule of law has fallen.”
Saudi princess with love child gets asylum
A Saudi princess has been granted permanent asylum in Britain after it was discovered that she gave birth to a child fathered by an English man with whom she was having an affair, BBC Arabic reports.
The princess, who is married to a Saudi prince, met her non-Muslim English lover in Saudi Arabia. When she realized she was carrying the man’s child, she arranged to give birth in the UK to avoid detection by Saudi authorities.
The judge who granted her asylum request did so to prevent a certain “death sentence by stoning if she returned to her country.”
This case has the potential to cause a diplomatic uproar between the Saudi and British governments. Saudi Arabia is one of a handful of countries that does not recognize British asylum approvals for its citizens.