By Rania Al Malky
CAIRO: Regardless of how over 40 million Egyptians will vote in today’s referendum on constitutional amendments, and whichever way the results take us, this referendum marks a decisive moment in Egypt’s transition to democracy.
True that the Supreme Military Council has imposed a publishing ban today and yesterday on any attempts to sway the public’s vote in either direction, but while on the outset, the ban may seem like a throwback to a past and hated era, in fact, it may well prove to have been the only feasible measure to ensure that the results of the vote were a true reflection of a democratic process.
Despite fears that there isn’t enough police to secure the voters, I have endless faith that Egyptian citizens themselves will exercise the vigilance and responsibility necessary to guarantee that our previous experiences with referenda and elections will have no place in the new Egypt and that any attempts to abort the gains of the January 25 Revolution will not be tolerated.
The manifestations of this new Egypt have already started appearing through small details. The media for instance has completely open access to polling stations. Journalists carrying press syndicate credentials or foreign press cards do not require further permits and reporters who lack these credentials simply need to present an official request form their institution to the Supreme Judicial Commission along with a valid identification card and the permit is made available within minutes. At least this was the experience we had at Daily News Egypt, as opposed to the case in the past when permits were never available on time, if available at all after the notorious state security checks.
An almost identical procedure is required by both local and international civil society organizations. I was heartened to read that the Norway-based Arab-European Center for Human Rights and International Law for instance, was reportedly given official permission to monitor the referendum.
This unprecedented act of transparency surely betrays a genuine will to see Egypt through the path to democracy and should allay fears of an imminent set-back.
Other manifestations of palpable positive change include how groups of people and individuals are becoming pro-active in starting initiatives to spread political awareness on the importance of this referendum. While some have chosen to consolidate their positions through a “soap-box” attitude — which they are perfectly free to do — others have taken the matter a step further, choosing to present all points of view to help their listeners decide for themselves.
Other initiatives were previously unheard of, such as a public call offering a crash course on monitoring polling stations held at the American University in Cairo in coordination with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, which is taking place as I write this column.
Not only is it now possible to vote simply with your national ID card or a new passport — which carries your ID number — but you can also vote at any polling station anywhere in the country even if it’s not affiliated to your place of residence on your ID. The next step will be to allow the millions of Egyptians who live abroad and whose remittances represent 5.8 percent of Egypt’s GDP to vote from wherever they are.
We have come a long way from that black referendum on Black Tuesday in 2005 when the ruling regime tailored article 76 regulating presidential elections and candidacy criteria to Egypt’s heir apparent, and those who protested were beaten and some even detained.
We have also come a long way from the coup over the constitutional in 2007 when 34 amendments were manipulated by a rigged People’s Assembly and approved on March 19 then put forth to a public referendum less than 10 days later. And of course the amendments passed. The very idea of the emergence of a “no” vote was little more than a flight of fancy.
But today, both camps have genuine concerns about the outcome of the referendum because people believe that the results will be a true reflection of the dominant opinion on the street. And the beauty of it all is that people are now actively seeking information, listening to the other side, participating in debates and learning — sometimes the hard way — to agree to disagree.
Since democracy is what we all want and freedom is what over 600 Egyptians died for and for which over 5,000 were injured, then we should all be prepared to accept the outcome, whether or not it is to our liking.
For now, armed with our national IDs and a strong dose of positive thinking and tolerance of the other, we must all hit the polling stations, douse our thumbs in phosphoric ink and make our voices heard.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.