Published: 12:47 GMT Daylight Time - Tuesday 29 March 2011
Muslim Brotherhood-backed Egyptian constitution passed
Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa
Amendments to Egypt’s constitution that were opposed by Christians and backed by the Muslim Brotherhood have been passed in a referendum.
The changes were supported by 77 per cent of voters in the poll, which took place on Saturday 19 March amid reports of election rigging and voting irregularities.
The outcome paves the way for quick parliamentary elections, as early as September, which are widely seen as being advantageous to the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. These are established movements that could quickly mobilise resources and field candidates. It gives little time for new parties, including ones that represent the aspirations of Christians, to organise themselves.
Christians wanted the constitutional amendments to include the removal of Article 2, which states, "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the prinicpal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)." But this was not one of the nine amendments put forward by the committee – headed by an Islamist judge – tasked with drawing up Egypt's new constitution. Their proposals included limiting presidential terms of office, improving the transparency of elections and limiting the imposition of emergency rule.
Opponents say the changes do not go far enough. Many Egyptian Christians said they voted “no” in the referendum; one church leader said the amendments were “not valid to build a modern civil state” and served the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups campaigned for a “yes” vote, claiming that it was a “religious duty” for Muslims. Manar Mohsen, poll monitor for the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, said that Islamic groups “also told voters to approve the amendments if they wanted to keep Christians out of government.” And some vocal Muslim spokesmen have publicly declared that the "yes" vote is a clear indication that the majority of Egyptians want an Islamic state.
Egyptian NGOs reported various examples of election rigging and voting irregularities. One said that the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood exploited people’s poverty in some areas, buying their votes or giving a kilo of fresh meat to those who voted “yes”. Another group, the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organisations (EUHRO), said that in heavily-populated Christian areas the polling stations opened late or the number of stations was reduced, restricting opportunities for Christians to vote. EUHRO, which had over 200 election monitors at polling stations, also said that illiterate voters were taken advantage of by being directed to vote “yes” when they wanted to vote “no”.
Such reports raise concerns about the prospects for free and fair parliamentary elections later this year. The outcome of the referendum, which saw a 41.2 per cent turnout, makes success for the Muslim Brotherhood now seem more likely – signalling danger for Egyptian Christians. Their position as second-class citizens would be cemented if the Brotherhood were to come to power. Their ideology excludes non-Muslims from key positions, including the government, army, diplomatic services and educational system.
And it is feared that violent attacks against Christians, which have grown worse in recent weeks , would only increase further under a more overtly Islamist regime.