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Eight reasons why the legitimacy of Saturday’s constitutional referendum is already compromised

Posted on Facebook on December 13, 2013

Eight reasons why the legitimacy of Saturday’s constitutional referendum is already compromised:

1. The referendum is being conducted in extremely divisive atmosphere. Only last week 9 people were killed when two rival groups clashed in front of the presidential palace. Recriminations and counter recriminations are being fired at each other every day. What inflames matters further is that this was not simply a fight between two opposing groups each with its own political leaning and/or ideology. Rather, this was a clash between peacefully demonstrating opponents of President Morsy who were camping in front of the presidential palace in Ittihadiyya in protest of his controversial constitutional declaration, when suddenly thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members descended upon them with the intention of “ending the siege” on the presidential palace. It later transpired that this was in answer to many calls that had been issued by senior leaders of the Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. One such leader, Essam El-Erian, Deputy Leader of the FJP, predicted in a live phone-in with Misr 25 TV channel, that all that was needed was “a night or two for the thugs around the palace to be arrested [by Muslim Brotherhood members].”
All of this meant that we are being asked to vote on such a fundamental text in extremely polarized, egregious circumstances.

2. In protest against President Morsy’s outright attack on the judiciary, the majority of Egypt’s judges have declared that they would not monitor the referendum, something that the existing constitutional declaration requires.

3. To forestall the possibility of violence on the day of the vote, the President issued a decree giving the military police the right to arrest civilians who may be deemed in breach of the law. Previous record of the military police over the past two years shows that they are very bad judges, to put it mildly, of what constitutes a “breach of the law”.

4. The vote is going to take place while the Supreme Constitutional Court is being besieged by the President’s supporters, and the High Justices are still prevented from reaching their offices or holding their sessions.

5. The vote will also take place while the “TV Production City”, which houses the majority of Egypt’s independent TV channels, is also being besieged by the President’s supporters.

6. The entire legal establishment is in tatters, mostly as a direct result of the President’s maverick policies. A few weeks ago, the President issued a constitutional declaration sacking the Prosecutor General. In one of his first moves, the new Prosecutor General put pressure on the prosecutors investigating the incidents that had taken place in front of the presidential palace, and urged them to level charges against the peaceful demonstrators who had been “arrested” by Muslim Brotherhood militias. When one of these prosecutors refused to abide by these orders given that there was no basis to continue to hold these people, he was dismissed from the case and punished by being demoted and sent to the provincial town of Beni Swief. A public outcry ensued at this blatant intervention in an ongoing investigation. In response, the Prosecutor General rescinded his earlier decision and reinstated that prosecutor in his position.

7. To overcome the serious hurdle of the insufficiency of the number of judges who are willing to supervise the referendum, President Morsy issued a decree stipulating that the referendum would be conducted over two days. However, rather than having deciding on two consecutive days, something that would have minimized the possibility of fraud, the referendum will now be conducted on two consecutive Saturdays, i.e. a week apart.

8. In light of all this, many human rights organizations which were initially ready to monitor the vote, have now decided that they were not given enough guarantees to make their effort worthwhile. Most notably, as of two hours ago, the Carter Center said it would not deploy monitors for the referendum on draft constitution because of the government’s late release of regulations for its witnesses.

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