x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Egyptians brace for the next challenge as elections may be held in June

Results from 10 of 29 provinces showed 65 to 86 per cent of voters saying 'yes' to the changes, which would allow national elections no later than September.

CAIRO // Egypt now faces the challenge of creating a democratic nation from the remnants of an authoritarian regime with elections to be held after the results of Saturday's constitutional referendum are finalised.

Yesterday, partial results showed votes were cast in favour of constitutional changes that eliminate restrictions on political rights and civil liberties.

Results from 10 of 29 provinces showed 65 to 86 per cent of voters saying "yes" to the changes, which would allow national elections no later than September, the Associated Press reported.

"More important than the results is the number of voters who went to the polls," said Issandr Al Amrany, an analyst, referring to the 25 million Egyptians who cast ballots on Saturday. In November, in the parliamentary elections, the tournout was just six million out of 40 million eligible voters.

An approval of the referendum forces most of the revolutionary groups to act quickly to be ready for elections as early as June.

On Friday, activists who participated in the uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak's stepping down as president, crowded a conference room in the Cairo Press syndicate to vote on the formation of the new political movement.

On a sheet of paper hanging from the ceiling, scrawled red handwriting proclaimed the name of one of Egypt's newest political parties, The Social Democratic Party of Egypt.

The following day, its members voted in a referendum on constitutional amendments, the first concrete step in a broader democracy-building process. The amendments would limit the president to two four-year terms, remove certain restrictions on presidential candidacies and scrap the emergency law.

Egypt's military rulers announced last week a plan to relax the law on the formation of political parties. After the constitutional referendum, the army said, a new rule to allow fair elections will be drafted.

Ehab El Kharrat, a Cairo psychiatrist and one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Egypt, said: "I don't think the party can become a real political structure in the next year or two," and that is why he voted "no" at the referendum, hoping to postpone elections and give his party time to recruit members.

"We have now to form a coalition if we want to challenge the Muslim Brotherhood and the ex-ruling party," said Ahmed Gohary, an activist of the new party, shortly after early reports suggested the referendum was heading for approval.

"Building a democracy takes time and the result of the next elections are not going to be great," Hisham Kassem, a newspaper publisher and political analyst, said as he sat in a chair on the floor of the construction site that will be his new office.

The project will focus on 24-hour news coverage of Egypt with a hefty multimedia wing. Funding, he said, comes from private businessmen, but no one person would be allowed to have more than a 10 per-cent stake, to avoid the sort of individual political influence that derailed media projects under Mr Mubarak.

Mr Kassem, a political and human rights activist who was in 2004 one of the founders of al Masry al Youm, one of the first independent newspapers in Egypt.

"We need to build a state," he said after the toppling of Mr Mubarak. "And it is not just a question of freedom. It is a very technical question."

His recipe for doing so is easy in theory, but difficult to implement in reality, he acknowledges.

"We need to build the judiciary system, to create a representative parliament, to form political parties, to work on a credible media, to construct a powerful executive. This is going to take time," he said.

And after Saturday's referendum, time is the main concern for many of the political players in Egypt.

"We need at least six months to form political parties," Nasser Amin, a lawyer and the head of the Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, said.

Mr Amin has been active in the campaign against a "yes" vote the referendum. Within hours of Mr. Mubarak's ouster, his organisation started working on a road map for political reform.

He intends to present it to the new authorities shortly, he said.

From his office in the Cairo neighbourhood of Manial he presented a long list of "must-dos" to dismantle the regime. "Before moving forward we must put on trial the leadership of the old system," he said.