Egyptians greet first “democratic” vote with a yawn

Is Egypt’s revolution, if it ever was one, now officially over?

The results of Saturday’s referendum on amendments to the constitution–seen as a first step towards competitive elections later this year–suggest less than great excitement.

According to Ahram, the turnout was around 41%. Yes, forty one.

Of those who bothered to show up, 77.2% said yes to the amendments.

I wondered how this compared to other referenda on either a new constitution, or amendments to the pre-existing authoritarian one, in past transitions to democracy.

The following is probably missing some key cases. I put it together by perusing my volumes of the Nohlen, et al., data handbooks on Latin America and Africa, as well as some sources on Eastern Europe.*

    Country, Year, Turnout,Yes
    Chile, 1989, 93.9, 91.3
    Ecuador, 1978, 60.2, 58.1
    Malawi, 1993, 97.7, 64.7
    Mali, 1992, 98.2, 99.0
    Uruguay, 1980, 78.6, 42.1

What this means going forward, I do not know. Various reports said the pro-democracy forces were divided over whether the reforms went far enough to be worthy of a yes vote. However, I did not hear anything about an organized boycott. Yet the yes vote was fairly strong out of those who voted, while the turnout shockingly weak for a country supposedly in the process of a mass-instigated transition to democracy.


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* I did not find any in Eastern Europe that took place prior to democratic elections. However, Poland’s referendum on its constitution in 1993 had a turnout on par with Egypt’s: 42.9. The yes vote was 53.5. Poland was already democratic by this point, having been governed under the interim Little Constitution.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood to present joint lists

Via Maan News, 17 March:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has reached agreement in principle to run a joint list with other parties in the next parliamentary elections, its deputy leader said …

The groups at the meeting, which included the liberal Wafd party and the leftist Nasserist and Karama parties, issued a joint declaration after a press conference that called for a series of democratic reforms.

Election order in emerging democracies

Marc Lynch:

I’m uneasy about the proposed Egyptian election schedule — I would prefer to see elections to a caretaker President first, then Constitutional reforms and finally Parliamentary elections — but I’m encouraged by the continuing forward momentum.

This seems like an odd preference to me. I can’t think of a single case anywhere in which there was a “caretaker” president elected as the first stage of a transition to elected government. In fact, I do not know if there could be such a thing as an elected president who was a mere caretaker. As soon as a president is elected, he is democratically legitimated, for better or worse. And constrained by what, if there is not yet a new constitutional framework–or even a legislature–in place?

It seems far better to elect a constituent assembly, which would also serve as an interim legislature, first. Or, as in some transitions, for the provisional (and thus still authoritarian) government to promulgate a new constitution (preferably with as wide a consultative process as possible), followed by legislative and, depending on the constitutional form, presidential elections. But electing only a president before a democratic constitution is in place seems suboptimal to me, as well as rare (if not unprecedented).

Mubarak gone, military in power

Just announced by Omar Suleiman in a brief statement (via Al Jazeera).

My first guess is this was a coup that began with the military council’s oblique “Communique One” yesterday. But who knows? Maybe we’ll know one day.

In the meantime, I leave you with some of the key ideas from the political science literature on revolutions:

    * Let fury have the hour, anger can be power…

    * Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…

Mubarak: How long?

I’m watching the Al Jazeera live feed from Egypt (via Livestation). Amazing stuff.

The ruling party HQ in Cairo has been burnt to the ground by protesters. The army is on the street with armored vehicles, and Al Jazeera is reporting that some of the personnel are flying flags and waving to protesters. Reports of some live fire, apparently by police.

The international airports have been closed.

Mubarak has yet to speak to the public, but is supposed to do so today. Is he going to order a crackdown, and if so will the army do it? Is he going to announce his departure? Something in between (and surely inadequate), like a plan not to stand in the presidential elections scheduled for September?

The long authoritarian rule in Egypt may be coming to end, at least in its present form.

Update: So, finally, Mubarak went on live TV, late at night, and announced the dismissal of the cabinet, and claimed credit for all he had done to give Egyptians the freedom they were now expressing. The Muslim Brotherhood responded by calling on the army to take over.