"If anybody has fears, they can act on them
by not voting for the Muslim Brotherhood," said El Beltagy. "But they
shouldn't try to force their opinion on the majority of people in
"Constitution first" proponents offer legal arguments
against the referendum's mandate to hold elections first. The Socialists
Party's Yehia argued that voters took to the polls with the impression
that the eight articles marked for amendment would be incorporated into
the 1971 constitution. After the result was issued, however, the
military declared a new constitution that installed the amended articles
along with 55 other selected articles. Yehia argues this unilateral
declaration renders the document invalid.
"The thought was to do
some changes and make the 1971 constitution go on," said Yehia. "The
referendum doesn't have any legitimacy anymore in this regard. They [the
military] didn't respect the results."
including Yehia, also say that the Brotherhood manipulated impoverished,
provincial constituents, which comprise the majority of Egyptian
voters, into voting for the referendum. In a country with nearly 35
percent illiteracy and 22 percent below the locally defined poverty
line, according to World Bank statistics, the Brotherhood's vast network
of free social programs has garnered the group widespread support.
Brotherhood used religion and the mosques to encourage the 'yes' vote
in the referendum," said Yehia. "To vote 'yes' was 'yes' to Allah, 'yes'
The Muslim Brotherhood vows they will only pursue a
constitutional framework and legislation that is consistent with the
will of Egypt's majority. The people, according to group officials, will
determine if Sharia is the appropriate legislative basis for the
"The Islamic laws are what we are trying to pursue
within the boundaries of the constitution and the Supreme Court and the
people's opinion," said the Brotherhood's El Beltagy. 'We will adopt the
But many Egyptians, regardless of political or
religious affiliation, are simply growing fatigued by the lengthy
transitional period. Political scientists say instability and a badly
hit economy are exacting a heavy price.
"People are fed up with
the continuance of the transitional period and want to see an end to
it," said Cairo University professor Mostafa Kamel El Sayed.
"Parliamentary elections will bring us closer to that end."
Egyptians, moreover, consider the constitution debate a destructive
issue pushed on a reluctant population by political elites. That debate,
according to critics such as Alamonta Ser Bellah, foments divisions at a
time when national unity is the foremost priority.
On July 1,
Ser Bellah sat in a tent in the middle of Tahrir Square, the epicenter
of the Egyptian uprising, as thousands of demonstrators chanted, "We
want the fall of the regime! We want the fall of [military chief]
Tantawi!" His friend held a poster that read, "We want retribution
first. Not the Constitution. Not elections".
"First we started
as one hand. No one was asking if you are liberal or Salafi," said Ser
Bellah. "This [the constitution debate] is not our problem. The problem
is to get the murderers. This is the issue."