Democracy News

Morsi Moves Forward with Egyptian Referendum Despite Protests
December 12, 2012
By: Ryan Mulvenna | Printer Friendly

On December 11, opposition groups took to the streets in Cairo and across Egypt to protest the constitutional referendum planned for December 15. Supporters of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s proposed constitution, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, also held demonstrations. Despite the protests, the government plans to move forward with the voting process. Overseas voting for expatriate Egyptians opened on December 12 at 150 consular and diplomatic missions throughout the world. 

The opposition rejects the draft constitution because it believes that the document is dominated by Islamist interests and does not protect human rights or women’s rights. Mohammed ElBaradei of the National Salvation Front (NSF) called the charter a “sham” constitution that violates basic freedoms and rights. A statement released by the NSF asserted that the constitution “does not reflect the hopes and aspirations of the Egyptian people following the January 25 Revolution” that resulted in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. ElBaradei stated that the NSF would not recognize the new constitution if the referendum is approved. Morsi maintained that the referendum’s rapid timeframe is intended to protect the revolution. The opposition responded with the charge that Morsi is becoming a dictator.  

The opposition is calling for its supporters to vote against the referendum, rather than boycotting the process altogether, but indicated that it may still decide to boycott if certain conditions are not met. In particular, the opposition is demanding that the state provide security at polling stations and that judges oversee the vote as required under Egyptian law. The judges union, however, stated that it would boycott the referendum and would not provide oversight. A small percentage of judges do plan to participate, but this group will not be able to adequately monitor all polling stations across Egypt. The judges’ decision to boycott comes in response to a presidential decree placing Morsi’s actions above judicial review. Morsi later rescinded the decree, but maintained the provision that grants subsequent decrees immunity from legal challenge.   

One of the main challenges to the opposition remains the lack of consensus among the various organizations involved. The groups that comprise the opposition represent a broad range of interests and organizations, including liberals, secularists, human rights activists, and supporters of the old (Mubarak) regime. Although there is a general consensus that voting against the referendum is preferable to a boycott, the Associated Press reports that some analysts have questioned whether a boycott would actually be more consistent with the opposition’s position. They argue that voting against the referendum carries the risk of being defeated through the ballot box, thereby legitimizing the new constitution, because their participation in the referendum would allow the government to say that the results were representative of the public will.          

In addition to the disputes over the new constitution, the increased presence of military personnel on the streets of Cairo has raised questions among observers about the possibility of a return to military rule. On December 10, Morsi issued a decree granting the military temporary authority to arrest civilians and to protect “vital facilities of the state.” The decree was partially a response to the failure of the police to intervene in the riots that occurred the previous week, in which government and Muslim Brotherhood buildings came under attack. It is intended to last until the referendum results are announced. The decree came as opposition protesters breached the barricades outside the presidential palace. However, there were no reports of violence associated with the breach. Although soldiers and tanks were guarding the perimeter, the BBC reports that they may have actually allowed the protesters to break through, and they did not appear to be exercising their powers to arrest the demonstrators.         

On December 12, Morsi announced that, in addition to the referendum voting on December 15, an additional day of voting will be held on December 22.

For previous news on Egypt, please see:
Protests Erupt as Morsi Decrees Greater Presidential Power

Associated Press (via Washington Post) – Egypt Opposition Alliance Urges ‘No’ Vote

BBC- Egypt Crisis: Cairo Crowds Gather for Rallies

New York Times – Egypt’s Opposition Urges Vote Against Draft Constitution

Washington Post – Egypt’s Army Assumes Broader Powers Ahead of Charter Referendum

Voice of America – Little Compromise Ahead of Egyptian Referendum



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