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Guest ColumnistOpinion

Egypt’s fraudulent constitutional referendum

Egyptian security forces deploy on armored vehicles at Tahrir square after pushing out student demonstrators and clashing with them in Cairo last month

By Wael Haddara

In July 2013, the Egyptian military, backed by an uneasy coalition of disparate forces, conspired to overthrow Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Since then, the military and security forces have committed at least four separate acts of mass murder of unarmed Egyptian civilians. Several thousand people, including the heads of four major political parties, have been illegally detained. (Some estimates place the number at 19,000.) Freedom of the press, both local and foreign, has been extinguished, and Egypt is now considered more dangerous for journalists than places like Somalia. Freedom of speech is a distant and fleeting memory, and police brutality runs rampant once again.

The coup regime has resolutely refused all attempts to negotiate a path back from the precipice.

In July, it produced a roadmap proposing, among other things, amendments to Egypt’s only freely ratified constitution, and its presidential and parliamentary elections. So far, the regime has not adhered to the details of its own roadmap. Amendments to the 2012 constitution were to be completed within 60 days, but the committee charged with the work disregarded the timeline and prepared an entirely new document that bears no resemblance to the original.

The new constitution sets up the army and the police as autonomous bodies with no accountability to the state. It enshrines the army’s power and ability to try civilians before military courts for a vast array of potential infractions.

The actual referendum and its results, in other words, are a red herring. Indeed, many seem to have forgotten that for the past 60 years, Egypt has had a reasonably functioning constitution, and under former President Hosni Mubarak, a fully functioning parliament. Then, as now, fraud, intimidation, and repression crippled the country, the constitution was entirely irrelevant to the country’s political and economic reality, and the announced results of votes and referenda were in the realm of the imaginary. (Unofficial referendum results show that 98 percent of voters have approved the new constitution.)

It is unfortunate that the United States and the European Union, represented by Secretary of State John Kerry and Baroness Catherine Ashton, respectively, have seen fit to lend credibility to this referendum by claiming that it is an important step along the path to democracy. Instead, they should heed the recommendations of Anthony Dworkin and Hélène Michou of the European Council on Foreign Relations, whose recent report, “Egypt’s Unsustainable Crackdown,” rightly assesses that the referendum and subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections are intended to give the regime a veneer of legality and respectability. The report concludes that Egypt is not moving toward meaningful democracy or stability, and recommends that the EU resist the current regime’s attempts at normalization.

Regrettably, the positions that the EU and U.S. foreign-policy czars have taken risk rendering both powers irrelevant to nascent democracies, particularly given the fact that the African Union, for instance, has clearly described last summer’s events as a coup, and has suspended Egypt’s membership as a consequence.

In the last six months, Egyptians refusing to give up on democracy have been out in the streets, risking both life and liberty. The referendum will not change that. Most of these individuals are young, while older Egyptians dominated the voting queues for the referendum. In the last two years, young Egyptians have finally tasted freedom and democracy. They will not settle for the neutered version that their parents and grandparents experienced.

So, what is the way forward? Real reconciliation is not possible without the release of prisoners, full, fair, and transparent investigations into the multiple massacres of 2013, and the removal of the army from political life. Certainly, citizens of both the United States and the member countries of the European Union would settle for no less within their own borders.

wael haddaraEgyptian-born Wael Haddara is a former senior advisor to ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. Haddara advised Morsi during his 2011 presidential campaign on matters of communication and foreign policy.

This article first appeared in

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