To say Egypt is at crossroads is an understatement. Egyptian society has never been so polarised, even at the height of the January 25 revolution, which overthrew the Hosni Mubarak regime.
The conflict between Islamists, who took over the reign of the state, and their secularist opponents threatens to plunge the country into a prolonged state of instability that will naturally deepen the political division, hinder economic rebuilding and further increase popular resentment in the country. It is only realistic to expect anti-government protests to continue. At the heart of the conflict is today’s referendum on the constitution, drafted by an assembly dominated by President Mohammad Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Opponents rightly argue that the assembly did not represent all segments of the society as had been promised by the president in his election campaign. The opposition, led by Mohammad Al Baradei and former presidential contender, Hamdeen Sabahi, demands that the referendum be postponed for at least two months to allow a wider debate on the composition and drafting of the constitution. This is a reasonable demand if it means putting the country back on track for reconciliation and rebuilding.
However, the president is adamant to go ahead with his plans. By all indications, Egypt will hold the controversial referendum today, despite protests in several cities yesterday.
Therefore, it is only imperative that all sides calm down and exercise their rights — in voting or boycotting — peacefully. The draft constitution can be defeated if enough people vote against it. And it will pass if the majority of Egyptians feel it represents their aspiration for a democratic and representative system. However, the Mursi government must ensure the process is fair and transparent. The opposition expressed concerns that the ruling Muslim Brotherhood may resort to rigging to pass the constitution, especially when the judges have opted not to oversee the voting.
Independent monitors and non-government organisations must be allowed to monitor the voting and the counting of ballots. The last thing Egypt needs at this critical junction is a referendum muddled by fraud.