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Blog Interview About the Constitutional Referendum with Abdel-Rahman Hussein, Author of Sibilant Egypt Blog

Posted on the 21 March 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
Dear Readers: 
Today, we are very privileged to have the opportunity to speak to Abdel-Rahman Hussein. Mr. Hussein is a Cairo-based journalist who's written for Daily News Egypt, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al Jazeera and the Huffington Post. He is author of the Sibilant Egypt blog.
Dear Mr. Hussein,
I just want to thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your election experiences. First of all, how does it feel to participate in possibly the first major real election in Egypt's history?
It felt surreal. This whole thing - since Jan25 - has been surreal and hasn't really sunk in. It's been a long time coming, that's for sure. It was a referendum though, not yet an election and as such was more clear-cut. Yes or No. It was also a bit anti-climactic in the sense that the outcome was accurately predicted beforehand.
I have cast many ballots in my life, but I understand that for many Egyptians, this was the first ballot they have ever cast. How did it feel to vote? Did you feel like your vote meant something?
Well I voted against the 2007 constitutional amendments knowing it would be futile, but I did it anyway. This time the turnout was much bigger, which was heartening. Though I voted for the losing outcome it did mean something in the sense that there is now a clearer representation of Egyptians. For possibly the first time we have a fairly accurate assessment of how many voted for or against a particular motion.
Do you believe that this election was truly free and fair?
There were, as ever, reports of irregularities yet it wasn't on the scale we've seen in previous elections. I think at the ballot box the result was relatively fair. As for what happened before people entered the ballot boxes, that's another story. The scare-mongering, the irrational reasoning for the yes vote was a disappointment. Yet anywhere else it would just be termed aggressive campaigning. I have no qualms with those who voted yes out of political conviction, but to vote yes as a pro-Islamic, anti-Coptic gesture or for purposes of the restoration of "stability" was sad for me. But I'll be told that “that's democracy isn't it?” Still within that framework, I believe there must be room to counter against bigotry, xenophobia (Article 75) and fear-mongering.
Following up on the last point, what specific violations did you see regarding elections? Were there enough polling places? Was anyone bribed? What do you think of the Muslim Brotherhood giving out food to encourage people to vote yes?
The Muslim Brotherhood campaigned aggressively - and successfully - in the days leading up to the referendum. There were reports of bribery, but irrespective of that they managed to get their message across. However, that shouldn't necessarily be seen as an indicator of equal success in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
In your opinion, was there enough time leading up to the referendum to actually learn what the amendments mean?
No there wasn't. And there wasn't enough time for debate. However, more time doesn't mean that the outcome would have been different. In any case Egypt needs a new constitution, and it will get one.
To your knowledge, who was on the committee that drafted the amendments? Do you think their selection was fair?
The selection was safe, not too controversial (with the exception of the one Muslim Brotherhood member). And I see the logic in only amending the articles that were put up. To rewrite a new constitution would have meant an interminable delay, as there is disagreement on - among other things - article 2 for example. However, maybe that's what should have been done. In a way, the ideals of the revolution have been usurped, but that's how things go when a grass-roots movement turns into a political process.
Finally, in your view, what does a yes vote mean for Egypt? What is the way forward, what is the situation we are in now?
What a “Yes” vote means will only be apparent once the parliamentary elections have taken place and we see what candidates won out. It could be good or bad (depending on your personal political alignment). I would say that the power now lies more not with the people who braved the previous regime and risked their lives to overthrow it, but rather with the "silent majority" that the regime was bleating about before it was consigned to the dustbin of history. In any case, what's imperative now is that regardless of the overriding political direction, there needs to be guarantees pertaining to the protection of minority rights, women's rights and civil liberties. As has been seen on the streets of Cairo recently, dissenting voices have been silenced by force, whether at the hands of the army or regular citizens. For me, safeguards against that sort of thing need to be enshrined in any future constitution.
Many thanks for your time, and your valuable insights. It has been a real pleasure “blogging” with you!

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