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Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Following Egypts Constitutional Referendum: Polarization and Collapse: Egyptian Discourse on the Social Networks

Following Egypt's Constitutional Referendum: Polarization and Collapse:
Egyptian Discourse on the Social Networks, January 2013
INSS Insight No. 395, January 9, 2013
Dekel, Udi and Perlov, Orit

In the two rounds of voting in the referendum on Egypt's constitution
(December 15 and December 22, 2012), only 17 million Egyptians – 32 percent
of the 52 million Egyptians eligible to vote – cast ballots. Of these, 10
million, i.e., 64 percent of those voting, voted in favor of the
constitution, and 7 million, 36 percent, voted against. For every 100
Egyptians, 20 voted in favor, 12 voted against, and 68 did not bother to

The dialogue in the Egyptian social media paints a dismal picture: “forgery,
fraud, fear, despair, anger, depression, polarization, and rage” are words
that appear frequently in connection with current events in Egypt. The
constitution was intended to be a cornerstone of Egypt post-revolution: a
reflection of Egyptian society, revolutionary demands, and a national
consensus on Egyptian values. Instead, however, the constitution is
deepening religious and social rifts in Egypt – between Islamists and
secularists, extremists and liberals, rural and urban, and rich and poor,
and between those who claim to speak in the name of God and those who speak
in the name of liberalism and freedom.

Since President Morsi pushed his constitution through, a sense of social
chaos – due to incompetent governance, lack of personal safety, and
impending economic collapse – has been expressed on the social networks.
This has led Egyptian citizens to arm themselves for self-protection, buy up
US dollars, and hunker down against the approaching storm. In other words,
there is a sense that it is only a matter of time before Egypt’s
socioeconomic pyramid collapses. What follows is a breakdown of the main
trends now being discussed on Egypt's social networks.

The Shrinking Base of the Muslim Brotherhood

Public opinion leaders on the networks emphasize that only 10 million
Egyptians voted in favor of the constitution that affects 90 million
citizens, while 7 million voted against. The fact that 68 percent of those
eligible to vote boycotted the referendum is a reflection of the lack of
confidence in the system.

Cairo: In the capital city, 57 percent of voters rejected the constitution.
A statistical analysis shows that the Islamic camp has lost the support of
the social and intellectual elite, the middle class, and in some urban
neighborhoods, even the poor.

Alexandria: Alexandria has long been known as the primary support base of
the Salafist parties in Egypt. In the parliamentary elections, 66 percent of
the city's voters cast their ballots for the Freedom and Justice Party or
the al-Nour Party. In the referendum, only 56 percent voted in favor of the
constitution. The explanation given in the social media is that the tools
for mobilization traditionally employed by the Islamists – namely, religious
ceremonies and Friday sermons in the mosque – have lost their efficacy.

Lower Egypt (north): In Monufia, Sharqia, Kafr el-Sheikh, and Dakahlia, poor
regions with high illiteracy rates, 60 percent of voters approved the
constitution, significantly less than the 84 percent who voted for the
Islamist parties in the parliamentary elections in 2011. Many on the social
networks believe that vote rigging flourishes in impoverished areas, where
the votes of the poor are easily bought with handouts of bread, sugar, and
fuel. The results of the referendum, however, reveal that even in the poor
governorates, such traditional methods are becoming less effective.

Upper Egypt (South): Although the south is also poor with high illiteracy
rates, 81 percent voted in favor of the constitution, which the social
networks attribute to hatred of and prejudice against the large Coptic
population. Islamist imams played the ethnic card, preaching in their Friday
sermons: “You have to choose: the Christians or us. Decide whom you want:
Muhammad or George." The majority of the Copts boycotted the elections. In
the sentiment voiced on the Egyptian social networks, Egypt "is truly a
country where the dead can vote, but the Copts can't.”

Chaos: Lawlessness and Poor Governance

The regime's incompetence in running the country, its failure to deal with
the economic crisis, and the weakening of law and order are popular topics
of discussion in the social media. Although the Muslim Brotherhood is
successful in mobilizing support in elections, it is unable to govern
effectively. Five months after President Morsi was elected, he is still
unable to pass laws without being forced to suspend or rescind them shortly
afterwards. Between early October and December, Morsi enacted four laws: a
“constitutional declaration” that granted him absolute power, a ban on
pornography, a curfew on shops and cafes, and tax hikes on soft drinks,
alcohol, and cigarettes. All were suspended or rescinded because of
widespread outrage on the social networks. In December, after the decision
was announced that the referendum would proceed as scheduled even in the
absence of a national consensus, many senior officials announced their
resignation: Egyptian Central Bank Governor Farouq el-Oqda, Egyptian Vice
President and former Judge Mahmoud Mekki, the new public prosecutor Talaat
Ibrahim, Minister of Communications Hany Mahmoud, Minister for Parliamentary
Affairs Mohamed Mahsoub, and several presidential advisors. Attempting to
preserve a facade of stability, President Morsi announced that he did not
accept their resignations, forcing the officials to withdraw them.

Weakening of Internal Security

Descriptions abound of entire neighborhoods that have armed themselves to
protect their residents from theft, violence, and other criminal activity.
In December, 30 party headquarters and offices of the Muslim Brotherhood
were vandalized, and some even torched. The main office of the al-Wafd
party, the offices of the independent media, and several Cairo police
stations were attacked, and two Salafi preachers in Alexandria were forced
to take refuge in mosques after being chased by angry mobs. Meanwhile, the
Sinai Peninsula has become fertile ground for terrorism and organized crime,
including weapons and drug smuggling, which has created a flourishing black
market in gas and basic foodstuffs.

The Collapse of the Socioeconomic Pyramid

One of the goals of the Egyptian revolution was to replace the traditional
socioeconomic and political structure with a more democratic and liberal
alternative. The first year of the revolution witnessed the collapse of the
top tier of the pyramid, including the removal of President Mubarak, senior
officials in his administration, and later, the Supreme Council of Armed
Forces. The second year of the revolution featured the victory of political
Islam and its clash with the secular liberal camp. However, the battle
between these two middle class forces over Egypt's future identity is
becoming increasingly burdensome on the lower class. In the third year of
the revolution, two groups from the bottom of the pyramid are expected to
make their own breakthrough: the poor and the radical Salafis. These groups
were among the 68 percent who did not vote in the referendum, either because
of a lack of interest and frustration, or because the only law they
recognize is “God’s law.” Any economic reform that results in price hikes of
food, fuel, and cigarettes could easily ignite this highly volatile

Future Challenges: Polarization and Collapse

Taken together, incompetent governance, weak internal security, economic
deterioration, the stagnant tourism industry, and the ongoing civil revolt
in Egypt are driving the country towards a severe crisis. Despite the
success of the Islamist camp in every election thus far, the secular liberal
camp is gaining momentum and their political and organizational power is
growing stronger. Although the leaderships of both camps want to avoid
complete economic collapse, fear and rejection of the other distracts them
from the nation's needs. Locked in this zero-sum struggle over the rule of
sharia or liberal freedoms, it is clear to both sides that whoever blinks
first will lose. The social networks note that until now, “Sharia has yet to
feed even a single empty stomach,” and that freedom and human rights will
therefore prove triumphant.

The balance of power between the Islamist and secular liberal camps will
inevitably affect the character and identity of Egypt. The current
socioeconomic structure is unstable given the imbalance between government,
the economy, civil society, religion, and internal security. According to
the assessment of public opinion leaders on the social networks, despite
domestic and foreign interests in Egypt's stability, socioeconomic collapse
is inevitable unless the two camps reach a consensus.
The Institute for National Security Studies • 40 Haim Levanon St. • Tel
Aviv 61398 • Israel • 03-640-0400 • e-mail: info@inss.org.il

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