In this post I will try to help you make sense out of the referendum numbers and look at the whole thing from the right perspective.
We don’t say no
I had no doubt that the constitution will pass even without any rigging. In fact, I was surprised at the 44% who said No in round 1. See, humans in generals rarely say no. It takes a lot of courage and study in order for a person to challenge the status quo. I know little about the history of constitutional referendums worldwide, but I know for a fact that the vast majority were approved.
We had 22 referendums in Egypt since 1952. All of them were voted yes. The vast majority of Egyptians are not concerned about the constitution as much as they’re concerned about putting food on the table. Very few even are aware of the effect of a constitution on the direction that the country will head to. Very few feel the constitution can in fact have a positive impact on their lives. The 1971 constitution had a lot of very good articles concerning freedom and human rights; were they applied? The answer is no. The debate over the constitution was cocooned within the intellectual class. The vast majority of Egyptians were not paying much attention; thus the very low turnout.
A Yes/No vote in a referendum is very different from voting for presidential candidate X or party Y. In a referendum vote, most people go for whatever will bring stability; and Yes is more stable than the obscure No. It is much easier to vote for a person or a party than to vote on a document that you don’t understand.
Last year, during SCAF’s era, there were attempts by the “civilian force” to write the constitution before the parliament elections. The Islamists stood against this with all their might. They wanted to do what they just did a few weeks ago: write the constitution on their own. Notice this: the Islamists knew that if the constitution was written under SCAF rule, it would have still been voted yes! Why didn’t the Islamists, especially the MB, agree to write a constitution before elections and then rally people to vote No? Aren’t they the most powerful and organized political force? They knew that in spite of their power, people will still vote for the constitution even if it declared that the state’s official religion was Scientology!
Let me give you another example. When the protests against SCAF were at their uttermost, one of the generals came out and gave the revolutionaries an ultimatum. “We can have a referendum on our presence,” he said. The general knew that in case of a referendum, the people would vote for stability; which back then was embodied in SCAF. Yes, he knew people would have voted for the military junta to stay in power.
Only 33% were moved by “God’s constitution”
The turnout in the referendum was unbelievably low. It was the lowest turnout in any of the elections we had since the revolution. The Islamists worked frantically to get out the vote. They have portrayed this constitution as “Quran version 2”. In spite of all what they did to convince people to vote Yes, only 33% moved their butts and went to the polling station; 36% out of which voted No! In other words, out of the 52 million eligible voters, only 20% voted Yes for this constitution.
The above fact indicates that no political faction can claim the absolute majority of adherents. The Islamists are just successful because they are organized and they have the cash. The low turnout is a clear indication that the use of religion for political gains is starting to lose its effect. Very good news!
Rigging was rampant
This referendum was managed, monitored and tallied by the MB (a.k.a ruling regime). Around 90% of the judges refused to supervise the referendum and in several cases voters found out university professors and lawyers “playing judge”. This referendum lacked any of the elements that guarantee fair elections.
Christians, who constitute a sizable community in Upper Egypt, were kept away from the polls by a systematic campaign of intimidation. A Christian porter who works at a friend’s house told me that he won’t go to his hometown El Meniya to vote because he was so afraid of the MB and Salafis. “None of my family members back home are going to vote. They’ll all stay at home,” he told me. The results that came out of Upper Egypt revealed that Christians were definitely kept away from the polls. Sohag, for instance, voted for Shafik by 42%. In the referendum, Sohag voted 21% No! This is simply impossible. Hamza Hendawi from The Associated Press wrote an excellent report from Assiut on what happened to the Christian community in Upper Egypt.
How much of an impact did rigging have? I believe rigging and other fraudulent behavior, such as intimidating Christians, altered the final true result by around 10%; so I believe the true result would have been 45% No and 55% Yes in case of a fair referendum.