Egypt vote muddles political outlook

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SummaryFor all the self-congratulatory headlines in Egypt's pro-military media, the results of last week's constitutional referendum may have fallen short of the emphatic popular mandate the nation's military chief was looking for before announcing his presidential run.

For all the self-congratulatory headlines in Egypt's pro-Army media, the results of last week's constitutional referendum may have fallen short of the emphatic popular mandate the nation's military chief was looking for before announcing his presidential run.

Moreover, the outcome _ nearly everyone who cast a ballot approved the draft constitution, but turnout was low, at less than 39 percent _ has put on display the country's enduring divisions six months after the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi and nearly three years after autocrat Hosni Mubarak was overthrown.

Another worrying aspect is that young Egyptians appear to have stayed away from the polls, probably because of frustration over the lack of real change and anger over the perceived return of Mubarak-era figures, along with such hated practices as police brutality and other heavy-handed tactics by security agencies.

The 98.1 percent ``yes'' vote cannot be seen as an accurate reflection of public opinion in ``a country as big and as complex and divided as Egypt,'' said Khaled Fahmy, a political analyst who chairs the history department at the American University in Cairo. ``This is a very alarming figure. ... Something has gone very wrong.''

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the military chief who led the July 3 coup that removed Morsi, has yet to say outright whether he will seek the land's highest office. His supporters had viewed the Jan. 14-15 referendum on the new constitution as a vote on the general's possible presidential bid.

The relatively low turnout, however, should be reason for concern for the general and his supporters.

While no one is claiming the vote was rigged or fraudulent, it took place amid a climate of intimidation, with a de facto ban on campaigning for a ``no'' vote and a media frenzy that projected a ``yes'' vote as the only way out of the country's deadly turmoil and economic and social ills.

Islamists effectively boycotted the two-day vote, honoring a call by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood to shun the referendum as a sham. The ultraconservative Salafi party Al-Nour, which sided with el-Sissi against Morsi, also appeared to have failed to rally its supporters for a ``yes'' vote, reducing the turnout. The party won about 25 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections two years ago.

ďEven the most optimistic of el-Sissi's supporters admit that the turnout was less than ideal,'' prominent analyst Nervana Mahmoud wrote in her blog on Sunday. ``Despite aggressive campaigning by state and

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