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Rebel Economy Wrap

Egypt’s constitution and why the wheel won’t turn

Egypt’s constitution and why the wheel won’t turn

By Farah Halime, rebel economy

Early results in Egypt’s referendum on a draft constitution have put supporters in a narrow lead, with an unofficial tally placing backers of the charter at 56.5 per cent of the vote.

Though voting will continue in other parts of Egypt next week, Saturday’s vote is important because it represents Cairo and Alexandria, the nation’s two biggest cities. These areas represent the stronghold of the opposition to the constitution.

Conflicting results from the Muslim Brotherhood and the main opposition umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, both claimed victory. However in past votes, the Brotherhood’s preliminary numbers have closely matched final results. All will be announced after the 22 December second round vote.

Yesterday’s figures show the referendum is likely to be passed and the challenge now rests with the country’s President Mohamed Morsy, who has already undermined confidence in the democratic transition and the economy.  He campaigned with billboards that read: With the constitution, the wheel will turn”But reality paints a different picture.

The most punishing challenges are ahead for Morsy:

Morsy’s mandate will be slim and he will find himself in an untenable position at times when tough austerity measures will be harder to enforce without serious backlash. His credibility is already wavering with a large part of Egypt because of his decision to hold a referendum without the support of the opposition.

Morsy is weaker than he has ever been. Every day that passes, the president makes a move that is met with resounding protest and opposition. His back-flip over tax reforms and the International Monetary Fund loan have only offered proof to his critics that he is not presidential material.  This is not necessarily because of the nature of the reforms but how he chooses to deliver the message, that is, almost always in a void with little communication and explanation to the public.

In the streets, chants of “Get out Khairat Al-Shater” can be heard. It is reminiscent of the protests last year against Mubarak’s gang of corrupt businessmen including Ahmed Ezz. There are mounting concerns over Morsy’s clique, especially Al Shater, a Brotherhood businessman who appears to have a great influence over the country, but who remains a mystery to most. Transparency is not Al Shater’s strong point.

Finally, the constitution itself has raised questions over how the Egyptian economy will run.  Improved labour rights and the extent to which these are addressed in the constitution, and the dominant interpretation of Islamic Shari’a and how this could influence banking and finance are major queries.  Yet more important than the constitution’s many flaws “is the context in which it is being proposed,” as discussed in a recent Economist article.

When Mr Morsy captured the presidency in June by a slim margin, he signalled magnanimity by formally quitting the Muslim Brotherhood and appointing a largely technocratic government. Egyptians cheered in August when he removed the domineering generals who had shakily guided the post-revolutionary transition.

But Mr Morsy has proven equally erratic and domineering. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, has infiltrated state institutions. It has tried to shape the message of the state-owned press, arranged for its members to distribute government-subsidised goods, and quietly scaled back family-planning programmes.


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