Kelsey, from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, participated in the Spring 2011 Semester in Egypt and Jordan. While in the region she kept a blog, unraveling the complicated and multi-faceted political changes occurring in Egypt. Enjoy this great post about the resurgent optimism in Egyptian democracy following the revolution! Originally posted on March 22, 2011.
Saturday March 19th Egypt held its first election since the revolution. 45 million citizens were eligible to vote. It was the first time voting for the vast majority. Since the National Democratic Party (NDP) had notoriously rigged elections for the past 30 years, people stopped voting…I guess that is assuming that the public once did actively vote and that is not so likely…Last November’s Parliamentary elections passed practically unnoticed. Over 90% “supported” the NDP… None of my professors or friends voted, but rather they laughed at the suggestion of voting. “For what?” they responded. My political science Professor said that she had a few students voting to spoil their ballots (because otherwise the NDP may fill them out on their behalf). A subtle, perhaps endearing act of resistance.
Anyway, Saturday was an incredible day and I feel really fortunate that I was able to be in Cairo. Warm sunny morning, collective excitement and anxiousness in the air. In traffic people motioned to one another, “go ahead my love//brother.” I have never experienced anything like it. The simple virtuousness that emerges after a terrible storm. The elderly made their way to the front of long lines, preferential treatment of respect. Even after hours of waiting, there was a united glow of pride. Every eligible Egyptian I know voted. The only exceptions are the ineligible, friends that deferred from mandatory military service.
So what was the election about? A bloc-vote referendum to amend 9 constitutional articles. The yes/no result determined whether the old constitution which was suspended Feb. 15 would be changed and reestablished, or if the old constitution would be scraped and a new one completely rewritten.
The proposed changes were drafted by an eight-man constitutional committee appointed by the military junta. Those voting no were not concerned with the amendments being suggested, so much as those not being addressed. The proposed (minimal) changes offer an uneasy sense of accomplishment, although they still provide the executive branch with ample authority.
Check it out:
Proposed changes: The revised article 76 would preserve the language allowing established parties to field candidates. Independents would have to fulfill one of two requirements: either receiving endorsements from 30 members of parliament, or signatures from 30,000 eligible voters living in 15 governorates.
- Article 77: Term limits
What it says now: It establishes a six-year term for the president, and allows the president to run for an unlimited number of terms.
Proposed changes: A four-year term in office, with a maximum of two terms for any one individual.
- Article 88: Election oversight
What it says now: This article was amended in 2007 to remove judicial supervision of elections. They are instead overseen by a committee, which is required to include “current and former members of judicial bodies” but also includes other public figures.
Most of the committee’s members are chosen by parliament, allowing Egyptian legislators to choose who will oversee their elections.
The committee, not surprisingly, has been ineffective: Egypt’s parliamentary elections last year were marred by widespread complaints of fraud, with opposition parties calling the results “a scandal” and demanding that they be annulled.
Proposed changes: Full judicial oversight for the entire electoral process, from voter registration to the announcement of results.
- Article 93: Eligibility to take office
What it says now: It states that “the People’s Assembly shall be the only authority competent to decide upon the validity of membership of its members.”
In other words, if a court declares a candidate ineligible to take office because of voter fraud or other irregularities, the parliament can ignore that ruling and seat him anyway. The National Democratic Party used this provision to ignore dozens of court rulings.
Proposed changes: The supreme constitutional court, rather than the parliament, would decide who is eligible to take office.
- Article 139: The vice presidency
What it says now: It states that “the president may appoint one or more vice presidents, define their mandates and relieve them of their posts.”
Mubarak, of course, refused to appoint a vice president until the last two weeks of his three-decade rule. He was within his rights, since the constitution only says that the president may appoint a deputy, not that he must.
Proposed changes: The president would be required to appoint a vice president within 60 days of taking office. If the vice president’s job becomes vacant, the president must “immediately” appoint a replacement.
- Article 148: State of emergency
What it says now: It gives the president wide-ranging power to declare a state of emergency. The declaration is subject to review by the lower house of parliament, but – because the National Democratic Party dominates the legislature – it would inevitably endorse the president’s decision.
The article states that the state of emergency “shall be for a limited period, which may not be extended unless by approval of the assembly.” Again, though, a rubber-stamp parliament rendered this provision meaningless.
Proposed changes: The president can still declare a state of emergency, but the constitutional committee proposed two changes. A parliamentary majority would have to approve the declaration within seven days; and, if the president seeks to extend it beyond six months, it would be subject to a public referendum.
- Article 179: Terrorism
What it says now: This provision, approved in 2007, gives the government practically unlimited power to “counter the dangers of terror.” It was used to justify arrests and interrogations conducted without any judicial oversight.
The article also states that “the president may refer any terror crime to any judiciary body,” which allowed Mubarak to bypass civilian courts and try “terrorism suspects” in front of military or emergency courts.
Proposed changes: The article would be abolished.
- Article 189: Constitutional changes
What it says now: Constitutional amendments may be proposed either by the president or the lower house of parliament, and will then be referred for a parliamentary vote and a public referendum.
Proposed changes: Changes requested by the president must have cabinet approval; changes requested by the parliament must be endorsed by at least half of the members in both houses.
The revised article 189 would also require the new parliament to appoint a constitutional assembly within six months of taking office. That assembly would draft a new constitution, which would then be submitted to a public referendum. – Thanks AJ
Check this VIDEO out for great commentary on the electoral process: AJ’s “True Democracy for Egypt?”
- With barely 10 days to discuss the referendum, we are witnessing clean voting versus fair voting. – Amr Shalakany, a professor of law at Cairo University
- Here is tendency to focus on procedural politics, and procedural democracy as opposed to the substantial, meaningful changes. – Rabab al-Mahdi, a political activist
Sunday evening the Supreme Electoral Commission announced that 77.2% voted “yes” versus 22.8 percent who voted “no.” Nearly 18 million out of 45 million eligible voters had lined up outside more than 40,000 secondary polling stations across the country.
Voter turn-out was unprecedented (41%), election monitoring was welcomed and the general mood was above-all positive and peaceful (the attack on Baradei aside). Like I said before, I feel quite fortunate that I was able to witness the momentous and historic occasion. Laila and I went down to Khan el-Khalili and although empty, the general vibe was encouraging//hopeful.
At this point the tides of democracy and power politics are churning. Peeps are beginning to strategize about the upcoming parliamentary elections for the people’s council and the shura council which are projected to take place in the next 6 months. The rushed time table is a bit nerve-racking, but I am hopeful that the youth coalitions (and general public) will keep authorities accountable. Concrete laws regarding the credentialing of political parties and campaign finance laws need to be addressed. Space needs to be made for opposition parties and independent voices to be heard.
Fighting the good fight, keep the fire burning.