x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fear and worry are the enemies of Egypt's future

The referendum is over - but Egypt's democratic process is just beginning. Creating responsive political parties will be the next step towards realising a democratic nation.

A majority of voters - more than 77 per cent - have backed Egypt's constitutional amendments this month after 41 million voters went to the polls. With 45 million registered to vote in the country, it was the highest elections turnout in Egypt's history.

Now, the national forces that worked for a "no" vote on these amendments and rejected the quick timetable and other related measures have no choice but to immediately prepare for Egypt's next challenge in the parliamentary elections.

The referendum has determined the mechanism by which the constitution will be changed and, with the next elections, Egypt will take a second great step towards democratic transition.

Many of those who voted against the amendments feel a mix of frustration, fear and worry today.

Their frustration results from the weakness of their voting bloc, which slightly exceeded 22 per cent of the vote. Their fear comes from the power of the religious forces that supported the amendments, which were passed by a majority of voters. And their worry stems from the fact that they must now face parliamentary elections without the tools for effective competition.

However, surrendering to this negative atmosphere - which is based more on exaggeration than on serious analysis - could have disastrous consequences.

The voting bloc that rejected the amendments is not a marginalised minority; it comprises almost one fourth of the 41 million voters who participated in the referendum. Nor were religious forces the only ones who supported the amendments. Indeed, those who voted "yes" should not be considered as a monolithic bloc; many citizens favoured the amendments for reasons that had nothing to do with the rhetoric of religious forces.

There is a worry among some Egyptians that the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate the parliamentary elections, giving them control of parliament and the constitutional assembly that will be charged with drafting the new charter.

Although reason for this concern exists, it must not interfere with the democratic process and political competition. It must not cause national forces to shun the elections instead of entering them and encouraging citizens to participate. The words "frustration", "fear" and "worry" will not produce a healthy, vibrant democracy.

Egypt has no time to surrender to this negative sentiment. The central discussion about the electoral regime must begin now and aim to craft a clear public preference among citizens for a regime that combines party lists and independent seats.

Egypt must also hold ongoing discussions between various national forces on the creation and announcement of political parties.

Discussions so far have focused on two options. The first is the search for parties that would unite leftists and liberals in support of democracy and the civil state. The second is the desire to form parties based on a clear political identity. This latter approach could split the votes of the constituencies that support democracy and a state built on civil institutions.

With the referendum complete, Egyptians must begin now to form unified parties that can quickly agree on candidates for the parliamentary elections and present them to their constituencies.

After elections, Egyptians should enter a second phase in the transition to democracy by forming political parties based on pure identity, especially if the first phase does not permit integrated party programmes to be drafted.

Organising politically into representative blocs will help to ensure that the transition to democracy succeeds. Otherwise, Egyptians may find themselves lapsing into a lethal mix of frustration, fear and worry that can undermine the entire project.

Amr Hamzawy is the research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and the spokesman for Egypt's Committee of Wise Men, which has recommended specific policy changes for the country's transition