Monday, December 24, 2012

Less than an endorsement

The transition drama continues to unfold in Egypt, and the rest of the world is watching with keen interest.  It should be. The implications are important for the region and for the broader Arab and Islamic worlds. The recent referendum on the controversial draft resolution showed close to 64 percent in favor and 36 percent against. Putting aside the serious problems that many of us have with the draft constitution, on the face of it 64 percent sounds like a respectable endorsement by the people of Egypt.But is it really?

A constitution is the fundamental set of values, objectives, principles, and rules by which a society agrees to manage its affairs as one state. It follows that establishing a new constitution or amending an existing one should be a consensual process and not a decision taken by a simple majority. Indeed, in most cases adopting a new constitution or a constitutional amendment require a two thirds or even a three quarters majority. Also, a quorum or a minimum participation ratio is often required. In the Egyptian referendum a simple majority of the votes cast was the only requirement. Given the mere 32 percent voter turnout, the 64 percent in favor actually translate into only about 20 percent of eligible voters. This can hardly be called consensual. What this suggests is that the draft constitution should have been disseminated, explained and debated more widely and for a longer period before being put to a vote.

In my view President Morsi and his Islamic party have committed an early faux pas. The Egyptian people are holding them accountable, which is the real source of our optimism about Egypt’s future. Let us hope the Brotherhood  finds a way to remedy the mess they have created. They will be the biggest losers if they don’t.

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