98.1% of Egyptians vote for the Sisi constitution

Constitutional vote, mabrouk

And to think, in retrospect, Mubarak just lacked audacity: in his last election in 2005, the old man only claimed 88.6% of Egyptians voted for him.  But General Sisi has outdone him now.  David Kirkpatrick, reporting on the results of the constitutional vote for the New York Times, managed a masterful bit of understatement:

The near unanimity of the vote was plausible because of the government’s vigorous suppression of any opposition to the new charter. A campaign of arrests and mass shootings has crippled the Brotherhood, the main opposition group, which was formally outlawed three weeks ago. It had called for a boycott of the plebiscite. Almost no critics of the charter were able to express their views in the news media or the streets. And several activists were arrested just for hanging signs urging a no vote.

In statement Saturday night, Ehab Badawy, a spokesman for the office of the interim president, described the vote as a triumph over the protests and antigovernment violence that have persisted since Mr. Morsi was deposed in July. “Despite a milieu of intense social upheaval and acts of terrorism and sabotage that sought to derail the process, Egyptians have now marked yet another defining moment in our road map to democracy,” Mr. Badawy said.

“Each vote cemented the foundation for a better economy, for social justice, for new legal protections expanding human dignity and liberty,” he said, calling this “the dawning of a new Egypt.”

A new Egypt has indeed dawned.  You’ve been warned.

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Update (20 Jan):

Peter Hessler, writing in the New Yorker, says:

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the [preliminary] 97.7-per-cent approval rate is that there is no overt evidence of widespread fraud. But this is why voting is only a small part of what constitutes a democracy; since the revolution, Egypt has held seven fraud-free national votes, and yet the country still doesn’t have a single government official who was elected to his position democratically. (Everybody voted into national office has been subsequently removed by coup or court decision, and local governments have yet to hold elections.) Since Morsi’s ouster, his supporters have been engaged in a bitter struggle with the Army and the police, leaving more than a thousand civilians dead. The courts have ruled the Muslim Brotherhood to be an illegal organization, and the Brothers and many of their supporters have boycotted the referendum.

There are many ways to rig a vote.  In Venezuela during the Chavez years, for example, the actions on the day of the vote were generally pretty legitimate and the vote count was broadly accepted as accurate, but the process leading up to the vote was so skewed, the regime’s commandeered access to media so vastly superior, that it cannot be said to have been a free and fair vote.

In Egypt, my assumption, like Hessler’s, was that the constitutional referendum was ‘free’ in the Chavez style.  But then I looked at this breakdown of the results by governate in Al Ahram and I thought, really?  In North Sinai, which is practically in full revolt against central control in Cairo, the ‘yes’ vote was 96.79%.  Matrouh, which voted 80.1% for Mohamed Morsi in the 2012 presidential elections and 91.7% for the Morsi constitution later that year, now went 96.20% for the constitution pushed by the man who overthrew Morsi.  Faiyoum went 77.8% for Morsi in 2012 and 89.5% for the Morsi constitution; now, it has supposedly voted 96.72% for the new constitution.  And so on.  True, Morsi alienated a lot of the people who voted for him, but this beggars belief.

Indeed, perhaps the most implausible part of all about the results is simply the total absence of the usual variation in outcome across the governates: less than three percentage points separate the highest ‘yes’ vote (in Daqahliya at 98.72%) from the lowest (in South Sinai at 96.08%).  By contrast, in the 2012 presidential race, the governate-level vote for Ahmed Shafik — a military man broadly cut from the same cloth as General Sisi so a reasonable proxy for regimist sentiment — ranged from 19.9% to 71.5%.  In the 2012 referendum on the Muslim Brotherhood-drafted constitution — and thus a reasonable inverse indicator of likely support for the replacement constitution just passed — the ‘yes’ vote ranged from 43.2% to 91.7%.  Yet in 2014, we are to believe, all those regional differences have been ironed out.

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Click here to read my other posts on Egypt and the Middle East.

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