On the Egyptian Referendum and the DC Protest
A protest was held today in front of the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C. where activists gathered to voice their opposition to the constitutional amendments that seek to cement Mubarak's power and silence any opposition to his rule. It was a diverse group of activists in terms of nationality, age, gender, and profession, but all were united in their belief that the Egyptian president and his NDP are taking Egypt towards a path that can only lead to more autocracy and oppression. A letter to Mubarak was signed by the protesters and handed to embassy officials. For more details about the protest, check Nora's post. I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend even though it was not a large presence, but we were at least able to send a message to the embassy that these backward "reforms" cannot and should not be tolerated. The protesters chanted mostly in Arabic, with slogans like "down with Mubarak, father and son", "Egypt is not your father's ranch", and my absolute favorite, "Give Mubarak a visa, and take him, Condoleezza". They all sound much better in Arabic though, and the organizers did a great job of leading the chants, and even singing patriotic and revolutionary songs.
As for the referendum that took place in Egypt today, most non-official sources have indicated that the turnout most probably did not exceed 4%. Of course the official government line is that the turnout reached 23-27%. All opposition parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, called on Egyptians to boycott the referendum because even if 99% of Egyptians voted NO, the amendments would pass.
Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera's correspondent, said the government "has made absolutely clear that it will regard a majority 'yes' vote as an endorsement of its constitutional amendments, regardless of how many people actually vote".In fact, the NDP was in full force pushing Egyptians to go to the polls and "vote yes" for the amendments. Marc Lynch writes about the night before, linking to blogs that displayed memos sent to state employees urging them to vote YES in favor of the amendments. Lynch also gives an updated report about press coverage of the big day, which includes observations from people on the ground who reported a very weak turnout. Commentator Josh Statcher writes:
Flipping through some stations, I saw Egyptian state television displaying various reports "from the street" where they interviewed students and average citizens who of course expressed their support for the amendments and bashed those who didn't turn out to vote. Abdelmonem Mahmood, a young journalist and MB blogger, gives some reports about incidents at polling stations and how some people were brought by buses so they could vote YES.
The Brothers basic argument today was that they were not protesting because if they did, the government would bring tanks on the street. Perhaps....but I suspect their calculation is that the regime is doing more harm to itself than if group comes out on the streets. Because If they did, it gives the government an excuse to distract attention away from how the whole amendment ordeal has been so blatently rigged. By doing nothing, the MB helps keep the pressure/focus on the state.
Perhaps, I am overanalyzing what was in many many respects a completely average day in Cairo during March. Not that I can prove this but well over 90% of Egyptians seemed to think the Amendment/Referendum process was a joke and it did not matter if they participated or not.
I snapped a few pictures of the rally, and chose to focus more on the signs than the actual protesters. Check my Flickr page for more. There was a "relatively" large police presence considering there was only 20-25 protesters. There were 3 police cars stationed a few feet from the embassy entrance, and three police/security officers at the entrance as well. They didn't intimidate us or anything like that. Nothing, of course, compared to what Egyptian protesters have faced over the past few weeks in harassment, arrests, detentions, and torture.
The results of the referendum are to be announced tomorrow. I wonder if they will pass!