On 14 January, polling stations opened in Egypt as part of a referendum on a proposed new constitution. The constitution being voted on was drawn up by the council that has technically ruled the country since the military deposed Mohamed Morsi in July 2014.
Some groups of socialists call for a “no” vote and agitate against military rule. Those that have done so have faced repression. The Revolutionary Socialist group, linked to the British SWP, has seen two leading members, Mahienour el-Masry and Hassan Moustafa, sentenced to two years hard labour for defying anti-protest laws.
A protest will be held at the Egyptian embassy in London on 25 January in solidarity with imprisoned socialists.
The government, the army leadership and the media are pushing hard for a “yes” vote, which they believe will confer legitimacy both on the rule of the army and its overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government. State media and corporate publicists have swamped Egypt with propaganda in favour of the new constitution.
The Brotherhood have declared a boycott of the referendum, but their influence is limited by the imprisonment and repression of many of their leaders and activists. Popular memory of its recent time in power also means the Brotherhood is struggling to find the support of the masses. Most of the other Islamist factions also oppose the constitution except for the Salafist Nour party, who have sided with the “yes” camp on the basis that it will allow them to retain their influence and avoid being outlawed.
Many liberals, leftists and independent trade unions have backed the new government and advocate a vote for the constitution, seeing it as a bulwark against the Islamists and the basis for a transition to parliamentary democracy.
The constitution is an improvement on the one implemented by the Morsi government — the new document is more secular, provides more democratic and civil rights to individuals and bans the use of torture.
Nevertheless, the constitution includes nasty loopholes. Religion would still be the basis of state law, civilians could still be brought before military courts and the army would have its role in government enshrined and protected from civilian interference.
General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, leader of the military coup and current Defence Minister, will likely use the referendum victory as the basis for a presidential campaign.