x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Despite victory Morsi must now serve Egyptians

Egypt's Brotherhood called the constitutional referendum an "historic opportunity" to heal the country's divisions, a claim that is tone-deaf at best, self-serving at worst.

After a second round of voting over the weekend, an official declaration is expected today on the result of Egypt's constitutional referendum; by all accounts, it has won majority approval among those who voted.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the opposition appear to have acknowledged that the country has given the controversial document about 64 per cent support. The opposition has argued that this is too low for a constitution, which is supposed to reflect consensus. But there was no "supermajority" required for approval, and 64 per cent is not a narrow victory.

Within that figure, however, there is significant variation. In the capital Cairo, which voted last week, the document was rejected by about 57 per cent of voters, it appears. Last weekend's vote, mainly in cities, gave the constitution slim approval while Saturday's, in the rural heartland that is the Islamist's bedrock constituency, returned a higher majority.

The FJP called the vote an "historic opportunity" to heal Egypt's divisions, a claim that is tone-deaf at best, self-serving at worst. It is the constitution that caused these divisions, or at least exacerbated them. The Brotherhood-backed party may have won on the legal level, but is fooling only itself if it believes this vote has brought it unquestioned legitimacy. Many, many Egyptians voted for FJP candidates while holding their noses, and now have done the same for the constitution, choosing stability, even at a high price. The low referendum turnout, estimated at 32 per cent, shows the lack of enthusiasm for President Mohammed Morsi's clumsily-imposed basic law. Now the FJP, and Mr Morsi, must recognise the deep divisions within the country - and must show some willingness to be conciliatory. He took a step in that direction on the weekend, naming 90 new senators including eight women and 12 Christians.

But doubts remain. The FJP needs to understand - and show that it understands - that legitimacy demands not only ballot-box success but also a demonstrated willingness to rule in the public interest, broadly defined. Hosni Mubarak, too, won at the ballot box, but that did not save him from his people's judgement.

Sensing the government’s fragility, the opposition will now turn its attention to the elections for the lower chamber of parliament, in two months time.
If they can put aside their differences and work out reasonable policies for ruling in the public interest, they may find a surprisingly  sympathetic hearing.