One can see the arguments against the referendum last Sunday: too soon, too quick, too acquiescent to the current constitution. But the arguments in favor: stability, with immediate small reforms. But the process itself seems to me the real gain:
"It is like a wedding," one voter in Nasr City told me. "We all came out even though not everyone knows exactly why." Many voters said exuberantly that it was the first time they ever participated in an election; previously, there was no point, most said, since the results were pre-determined. While there were some incidents of voting irregularities and disturbing cases of intimidation - including one against Mohamed al-Baradei himself - by and large the voting took place in a way that was free, fair, and transparent. Immediately after the results were issued, prominent opponents quickly acknowledged them.
While we are distracted by Libya, a far more important objective is in danger of being ignored: protecting the fledgling democracy in the most important Arab country. Egypt is the key. If democracy can prosper there, it will spread. Is the US spending more on civilian help and assistance in the shift to democracy in Egypt than on Tomahawk missiles in Libya? Alas, one suspects not.
(Photo: An Egyptian man show his ink-stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station in Mansura, 120 kms north of Cairo, on March 19, 2011 as voters got their first taste of democracy in a referendum to a package of constitutional changes after president Hosni Mubarak was forced to relinquish his 30-year grip on power last month in the face of mass street protests. By Khaled Desouki/Getty.)