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Random observations on Egypt’s referendum

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Dr Mohamed Fouad

Dr Mohamed Fouad

On Wednesday, as the polls closed and results started pouring in, a big step in Egypt’s transitional roadmap was concluded. While it was a no brainer that the constitution was going to be overwhelmingly ratified by popular vote, the actual results of the referendum deserve to be analysed carefully, as they do paint a picture of the Egyptian political landscape. While official results have not yet been announced as of this moment, we will aim to provide some observations on this event in light of the preliminary results at hand.

A key determinant of the success of the referendum was always going to be the turnout rather than the actual percentage of Yes votes. To secure some sort of a mandate, Egypt army-backed transitional government needed to get a turnout which supersedes that of the December 2012 referendum, held under the rule of then President Mohamed Morsi. While some cast doubt on how many people actually went to the polls and others exaggerated the figures, it remains clear that participation rate was somewhere between 35-38% of registered voters which is 10-20% more people than those who voted last time. The turnout per governorate landed anywhere between 20% at the low end in places like Matruh to over 50% in places like Menufiya. The large majority of governorates had more turnouts in 2014 than 2012.

While people may have fancied an overall turnout that exceeds 50%, this remains a pipedream for a simple reason: logistical challenges are a real problem in Egypt, and unlike parliamentary and presidential elections, on-ground mobilisation, which includes shuttling of voters to polling stations, especially in rural areas, does not take place. So, overall, it is fair to say that the current turnout is monumental in comparison to both the 2011 and 2012 referendums.

Somewhere on social media, a myth has started circulating that youth participation was largely absent from the current votes. With no credible exit polling data in place, it is virtually impossible to either corroborate or refute this claim.

Claims of foul play have also quickly circulated regarding the preliminary lopsided results of the referendum. Tom Gara of the Wall Street Journal called it “old school”, referring to the Mubarak-era vote rigging. The Muslim Brotherhood-led legitimacy alliance accused authorities of the same thing. The reality on the ground suggests that despite the heavy media push for a Yes vote ahead of the referendum, the actual voting process was carried out in a fair and organised fashion. Several monitoring organisations, including the Egyptian organisation Shayfencom, have asserted that the process has gone smoothly with virtually no irregularities.

Looking ahead, the political chatter suggests that presidential elections will come ahead of the parliamentary election. All eyes now are on Army Chief General Al-Sisi, who is expected to make an announcement regarding his intentions to run for the election. The results of the referendum indicate, by and large, that if he chooses to run, not only will he win, but he will potentially run uncontested.

About the author

Dr Mohamed Fouad

Dr Mohamed Fouad

Mohamed A. Fouad is a global expert on service quality as well as a political and social activist

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