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A guide to what is next for Egypt

Will the referendum solve the political crisis?

Gulf News

Cairo: Questions and answers about the political crisis in Egypt, and what may lie ahead if the referendum on the draft constitution is passed or rejected. The second phase of voting will be held on December 22.

What happens if the constitution is adopted?

Elections for parliament’s low chamber must be held within two months after the official result is announced. The new chamber would replace an Islamist-dominated one dissolved by a court ruling in June. Until a new chamber is seated, parliament’s upper chamber, known as the Shura Council, will take over legislating. Politically, a “yes” win will significantly strengthen the Islamists, giving them what they will consider a mandate to push through with their longtime plan to make Egypt’s state and society more Islamic.

What happens if it’s rejected?

President Mohammad Mursi will call for an election of a new panel to write a new draft within three months. Politically, the result will considerably weaken Mursi and his Islamist backers in the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, and the ultraconservative Salafists. It will embolden the opposition liberals and broaden their popular appeal as a viable political force.

What if it passes narrowly?

A narrow majority like, say, 55 or 60 per cent, would somewhat diminish the credibility and the legitimacy of the document. Low turnout may have the same effect. The opposition has long argued that constitutions must be adopted by consensus not a majority. But Mursi will most likely take a narrow victory as a sufficient victory. The Egyptian president won office with 51.7 per cent of the vote.

What is the procedure for amending the constitution if it is adopted?

According to the draft, articles 217 and 218 state that the president and parliament have the right to make a “request” to “amend an article or more.” If one is made, then parliament must discuss the request within 30 days. Two-thirds of parliament members are needed to pass the request. Then parliament has 60 days to finalise the amended articles, and a third of parliament is needed to pass the final text before putting them to a national referendum. This process is mostly academic since the Brotherhood and its Salafist allies are virtually certain of dominating the next parliament and will not be prepared to dilute clauses giving Islamic Shariah laws supremacy or reduce the role of the state in enforcing Islamic teachings.

Will the referendum, regardless of its outcome, mark the end of the country’s crisis?

Probably not. The dispute over the constitution has over the past three weeks evolved into an existential tug-of-war between the Islamists and the mostly liberal opposition over the identity and the future of the nation. It is still unclear how politicians and courts will treat the critical clauses on religion and the state, but Egypt may be facing a stark choice: a religious state, or at least one with a great deal of religion injected into its government and where religious principles can trump civil rights, or maintaining Egypt’s current compromise between secularism and its Islamic traditions.

Can the two sides meet halfway?

Unlikely. Mursi and his Brotherhood are under pressure from their Salafist allies to do more to align the nation’s laws with Islamic teachings. The president and his movement may eventually have to cave in to maintain their hold on power. The liberals, in turn, are under pressure from large segments of the population, including educated women and minority Christians, not to compromise on points they believe are key to protecting the public’s rights and interests over the long term.