Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fractious, Factional Egypt

"It is not just a referendum on the constitution. It is on many things, including el-Sissi and the fight against violence by militants.
"I cannot imagine that a big 'yes' majority will automatically usher in a new legitimacy that will be swiftly recognized by the West, but it is a good constitution that must be given its due."
Makram Mohammed Ahmed, Cairo news columnist

This week's constitution referendum is to be held with high security. There is much at stake, particularly for Egypt's powerful military chief, who, if all indications are right, will see General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi present himself for the first electoral test since the ouster of Mohammed Morsi on July 3. If the referendum passes with a comfortable majority, General el-Sissi will feel the time is right for his presidential run.

And with the high popularity he enjoys from among Egypt's population, subtracting the contempt in which he is held by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, it will be an electoral cakewalk for the general. Giving him the position and the authority to which he feels entirely entitled, as the man who took decisive action at the demonstrated demand of a majority of Egyptians to deliver them from the kind of Islamist doctrinal mission Mohammed Morsi was fixated upon.

Should General el-Sissi gain the presidency it would be most interesting to compare his administrative skills with that of his immediate predecessor under whom crime became even more rampant, women and Christians were increasingly threatened, the economic stock of the country plummeted, unemployment rose along with consumer prices and tourism tanked. He will have to continue to address himself to the growing lawlessness in the Sinai, above all, which will become even more acutely threatening.

Security arrangements are massive to protect voters and polling stations from anticipated protests which will inevitably descend into violence. Even though supporters of the Brotherhood must now fully understand the precarious position in which they will place themselves in publicly aligning themselves with a political movement that has been designated as a terrorist organization, punishable by imprisonment.

Supporters of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi clash with security forces in Nahda Square, near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014. With a presidential run by Egypt’s powerful military chief seeming more likely by the day, this week’s two-day constitution referendum, to be held amid a massive security force deployment, is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the regime he installed last summer. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)
 
Fully 160,000 military including elite paratroopers and commandos with armoured vehicles and helicopters backing them will be in evidence. As though polling for the referendum on the altered constitution represents a conflict, the polls a battlefield. Which indeed will represent the reality of the situation. Aiding the military will be over 200,000 police officers to counter militant attacks. Troops will be stationed at airports prepared to fly on short notice to sites where attacks may be taking place.

A supporter of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi flashes the "Rabaa" sign during a protest in Nahda Square, near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014. With a presidential run by Egypt’s powerful military chief seeming more likely by the day, this week’s two-day constitution referendum, to be held amid a massive security force deployment, is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the regime he installed last summer. (AP Photo/Heba Elkholy)
 
Snipers to be deployed at confidential locations close to polling stations. Any provinces where major outbreaks of violence occur will be sealed from the rest of the country leaving the police and military free to move in to contain the situation. Wealthy Egyptians have been requested by local officials to fund transport of poor voters to polling stations. Little has been left to chance. Voters are permitted to cast ballots wherever they happen to be on Tuesday and Wednesday, even outside their own districts.

The rewritten constitution will, among other things, give the president leave to appoint a prime minister and parliament opportunity to support the president's choices or face disbandment; cabinet to be formed in 60 days. Parliament will have the power to remove an elected president and prosecute him over a list of crimes. Lawmakers may withdraw confidence from the president and call for early elections with a two-thirds majority after a public referendum. Thus making legal what has already taken place.

The freedom of belief is to be considered "absolute". Freedom of religious practice and establishment of places of worship restricted to "believers in heavenly religions", clarified as Islam, Christianity and Judaism. An invitation for Egyptian Jews and their descendants to return to their ancient places of residence within the country?

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