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Egyptian Expert Predicts Ratification of New Constitution

People cast their votes during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22.
People cast their votes during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22.
An Egyptian expert says she expects Egypt’s two-day constitutional referendum which begins Tuesday and concludes Wednesday will most likely pass by a wide margin.

Saba Mahmood, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, says if that happens it would be due largely to what she calls the political repression unleashed by the military-backed transitional government against those who disagree with the government.

“I think that it’s going to actually pass and the result is going to be that the new constitution will be ratified by a broad referendum. I think this is the result of the political repression that the military government has unleashed so that most people who disagree with the government are not really going to come out in any great numbers because they are afraid of the political repercussions,” she said.

Mahmood also says the referendum may pass because of what she calls a general nationalist fervor that has gripped Egypt in support of the military.

“It’s not necessarily total. In other words, it doesn’t mean that it has such a majority that today if fair and free elections were held the military junta would win. But on the other hand there is a nationalist fervor in support of the military because of the sheer exhaustion people feel and they want an end to the last three years of instability, Mahmood said.

The interim government has frozen the assets of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the closure of bank accounts, schools and hospitals run by the Brotherhood.

Mahmood says it is too soon to say if the freezing of Brotherhood assets might motivate more people who depend on these services to turn against the referendum.

“I think that since the banning of the welfare social services that the Brotherhood has provided in Egypt, there isn’t enough time for the repercussion of that to be felt. After all, this is a recent development and I think the effect of that ban has yet to be felt sociologically within the body politic,” Mahmood said.

She says except for slight modifications, the new constitution is not too different from the 2012 document approved under the government of now deposed President Morsi.

“For example, Article 2 which regards the Sharia as the source of all legislation in Egypt continues to be in place. Similarly, the restrictions imposed on the right of religious liberties of minorities are pretty much the same,” she said.

However, Mahmood says one dramatic change is the kind of power that the military will now be able to enjoy under the new constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for a boycott of the referendum. The Strong Egypt Party also announced Monday that it would boycott the referendum over the arrest of people campaigning against the vote.

Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim Monday reportedly warned supporters of ousted President Morsi that security forces will use unprecedented force against anyone attempting to disrupt the vote.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with el-Sissi on Sunday and "stressed the importance of a transparent referendum in which all Egyptians have the opportunity to cast their vote freely."

Professor Mahmood says she was not surprised that el-Sissi last week announced that he would run for president if the Egyptian people wanted him to.

“I think it was in the cards before. He has really trying to consolidate his image. When you have a military leader who rises this way, who actually bans all opposition TV channels and publications in news media, who absolutely prohibits any kind of criticism of both his public persona and the military of which he’s a part, then it’s not surprising that he would then want to contest elections. Now what those elections would be, there is going to be another farce,” Mahmood said.

She said it was ridiculous to call the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

“If these are real charges, the only way to be able to prove them would be to bring it not to a military court but to a civilian court, to actually have a free trial and fair trial of the people who have been arrested. But none of that is being done,” Mahmood said.

Butty interview with Mahmood
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