Tahrir Square youths urge 'No' vote on constitution
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The young, educated activists who inspired and led Egypt’s revolution talk to FRANCE 24 about their concerns that Saturday’s referendum on approving an amended constitution could derail everything they have fought for.
Egyptians turned out in force on Saturday to vote on whether to approve amendments to the country’s constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections, with queues forming at polling stations before they opened at 8 am local time (GMT-2).
The constitutional changes were drafted by a closed committee over ten days and they were open to public discussion for only three weeks.
Some 40 million Egyptians are expected to vote on measures that will have a profound effect on their country's future.
The amendments include measures to limit presidential terms, to ease restrictions on presidential candidates and the formation of political parties and to bolster judicial supervision of elections.
The changes do not, however, curb the president's powers.
Speaking on Egyptian television last week, Mohamed ElBaradei, a presidential candidate and former head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, branded the proposed text "a dictator’s constitution".
His view has been echoed by many of the young web-savvy militants who led the revolution that toppled Egypt's long-time president, Hosni Mubarak.
They argue that the constitution needs to be rewritten from scratch – and that in its current state it is too similar to the one that upheld Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship.
Egyptian artist and activist Aalam Wassef is one of the elites that spearheaded the revolution with activity online and in the streets of Cairo.
He told FRANCE 24 that the amendments were “cosmetic” and that the army, which dominates Egypt’s caretaker government, was rushing the country into premature elections “in a very undemocratic fashion”.
He said: “The amendments were done without any national dialogue by a small committee of eight people who were not chosen by the people. The army is not legitimate to propose amendments. There is no discussion.”
Asked if a “Yes” vote would put the brakes on the revolution, he replied that it would “reignite it”.
But not all opposition forces agree. The powerful Muslim Brotherhood has called for a “Yes” vote. Critics say that is purely because it would give them an advantage, given that the Brotherhood is the largest and most organised political group outside of Mubarak’s own NDP party.
Despite Mubarak's fall, the NDP remains the country's biggest and richest party, with the largest number of seats in parliament.
According to Aalam Wassef, the Brotherhood and the NDP are hoping to share power in the future, with the army's blessing. "They are accelerating the process so that alternate parties may not form and take part meaningfully in the election," he said.
Women’s rights activist Marwa Sharaf El Din told FRANCE 24 that she did not understand why people should approve amendments to an already discredited constitution that maintained “obnoxious powers” for the president.
She said she feared that because the altered constitution stipulates early elections, the popular and well organised Muslim Brotherhood would take a large number of seats and then begin drafting a new constitution for their own benefit.
Sharaf El Din argued that a constitution should be written in partnership with all segments of Egyptian society – including, but not dominated by, the Islamists.
“But the coming parliament will be controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood,” she said. “And they will form the committee that will write the new constitution."
She added: " It [a Yes vote] would be disastrous. It is against everything the revolution stands for.”