As The Middle East goes to press, the referendum in Egypt is well underway, along with the ubiquitous outpourings of victory and vitriol. Even before the second phase of voting took place, the Muslim Brotherhood was claiming triumph, as the liberals and secularists alleged corruption and vote rigging.
This referendum goes straight to the heart of post revolutionary Egypt and its transition to democracy. On the face of it, the question is whether or not President Morsi will get away with his plan to adopt sweeping powers that elevate his office above that of the judiciary. However, other important components are very much in play, including the political selection process, the role of the army, social freedoms, minority rights and gender equality; thorny issues that can not continue to be swept under the carpet.
As Egypt marks the second anniversary of the beginning of its revolution this month, tensions are running high. Much has been sacrificed to secure a workable democracy in the Arab world’s most populous state and President Morsi’s attempts at what his followers refer to as ‘expedience’ smacks of, at best, insensitivity and arrogance, earning him the sobriquet ‘the pharoah’ among those unconvinced of the philanthropic aspects of his edict.
It is where Mr Morsi goes from here that will determine exactly what manner of man we are dealing with. I feel confident that we will see a ‘Yes’ vote when the polling is done; most Egyptians want peace and stability and in order to achieve that they will give Morsi the benefit of the doubt. Their backing can be utilised to right the wrongs and – heeding the clear demands of the nation – to put an end to all ambiguity in the new constitution.
To do otherwise will be to risk an escalation of violence that neither Mr Morsi, nor any individual currently waiting in the wings, will be able to control. History shows us that revolutions can go on for years before achieving their aims. There are no guarantees that this one is over.