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ElBaradei: Egypt’s Draft Constitution Will ‘Institutionalize Instability’

December 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In Egypt, citizens are still awaiting official results of the country’s constitutional referendum even though one side seems to have won the clear majority. Jeffrey Brown speaks to McClatchy Newspapers’ Nancy Youseff from Cairo. Then, Gwen Ifill speaks with opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei of the National Salvation Front.
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JEFFREY BROWN: For more on the referendum, I spoke to Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers a short time ago in Cairo.

Nancy, welcome again.

First of all, when are we now expecting definitive, certified results on the vote about the constitution?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: We expect that tomorrow.

We have been hearing unofficial results literally minutes after the polls closed over the weekend on Saturday. But the government said that we expect official results tomorrow. And that will give us a good sense of not only how much the referendum passed by, but what it says about Morsi’s popularity and what it says about the trends in the country, in terms of those who are supporting the direction Morsi is taking and those who are opposing it.

So, there will be lot of information in there. From what we know preliminarily, the referendum did particularly well in upper Egypt and it lost in the capital, in Cairo.

JEFFREY BROWN: What does that tell you, those differences? What does it say about Egyptian culture, society or political — politics?

NANCY YOUSSEF: It’s interesting, because the numbers that we know so far tell us that, first of all, the enthusiasm for participating in this process is dropping. In the first round of the election, presidential elections over the summer, 70 percent of eligible Egyptians voted.

In the runoff presidential election, 50 percent of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters participated. In this referendum, it was 30 percent. The fact that the capital did not approve the referendum I think raises a lot of questions from those like Morsi who said that this constitution would lead to more stability.

What it portends is more division in more urban areas and areas that ultimately will spur economic investment in this country, which it so desperately needs. And that could reach some poor Egyptians, because what we hear from Egyptians time and time again is what they want is stability and economic development.

And until the urban area is on board, the prevailing feeling here is that the rest of Egypt won’t progress. So it’s troublesome for Morsi that, number one, fewer people are interested in participating, and, number two, that he hasn’t gotten the areas where the urban vote is so important.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are you seeing any signs at this point of President Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood reaching out more to opponents after this round of voting?

NANCY YOUSSEF: They will say that they’re interested in having discussions, but what we’re really seeing more than anything is that the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters are already thinking about the parliamentary elections, which under the constitution must be held within 60 days, that that seems to be the next battle that everybody is gearing up for, because this constitution is very vague.

And what it really does is give a lot of power to the legislative — there are many, many clauses, more than 30 of the 236 articles, that say things like, Egyptians have this right unless otherwise stated by law. Everything is sort of put in the hands of the legislature.

So, while this document sort of codifies the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy, the real test in terms of power will now be in the parliamentary elections. And so rather than seeing an effort towards trying to get consensus, what we’re really seeing is Morsi and his supporters trying to prepare for the next and arguably the most important election, the parliamentary election.

JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, though, the opposition is talking about potential fraud in this latest vote. Are there any known documented irregularities that have been found?

NANCY YOUSSEF: So far, there are a lot of allegations and counter-allegations by the opposition.

They have alleged more than 600 violations, from judges urging people to vote a certain way to ballots being stuffed. What was interesting is that this election, particularly the second round of it on the 22nd, really had the least amount of monitoring that we had seen in Egypt. And so the cases or the potential for fraud certainly were the highest that they have been since Egypt started having these elections, because there wasn’t enough time to get enough monitors in here.

And there were not even enough judges to hold the referendum vote. A lot of prosecutors and other legal experts were brought in to hold the referendum. There was the expectation that allegations would be highest this time, but in terms of specifics, we have heard some from the opposition. But we have also heard from supporters of the referendum that any violations were minor and don’t affect the ultimate outcome.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo, thanks so much.

GWEN IFILL: Earlier today, I spoke with opposition leader, and coordinator for the National Salvation Front, Mohamed ElBaradei. He is the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. 

Mohamed ElBaradei, thank you for joining us.

You called on Egypt to reject the draft constitution that passed this weekend. What is your reaction to how it turned out?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate: Well, it is going to pass, but it’s a really sad day in my view for Egypt, because it is going to institutionalize instability.

It’s a very polarizing charter. It defies a lot of the basic human value we live by, like freedom of religion, freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary. So I’m not sure that this is the way forward.

However, we will have to take it from there. And I am still calling that we treat that constitution as an interim one and still try to get another constitutional assembly to work a constitution that is not polarizing, but establish a consensus among the two divided factions of the society.

Right now, we have the educated middle class on one camp and the so-called Islamists and the majority of the illiterate part of the country on the other side. That’s not the way we expected after the uprising. We needed a charter that unified the people, that starts talking not about controversial issues, like the role of Sharia law, how you restrict freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of worship, but talk about science and technology, education, health care.

And that is what really people cared about. So, we are going through a difficult time. As you know, the economy is falling apart. Standard & Poor’s today downgraded to B-minus. Law and order is not in the greatest shape. So, we need to see a way to move forward. But it is a difficult time right now.

GWEN IFILL: But if these numbers hold, it looks like a pretty significant victory for President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Was this silent majority that was speaking?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: I’m not sure it’s a silent majority.

I mean, you have the Islamists, which is probably like 30 percent of the country. The rest are — as you know, one-third of the country is illiterate. I mean, they are being told that this is a way to stability. And I think they have a right to think that way.

The country has been going through a turbulent time for two years. And if you tell them that this is the way to stability and this is the way for your deliverance, because we are going to apply God’s word, it is very attractive for people who really cannot make much of a very sophisticated draft constitution.

So, yes, it is a majority. But, on the other side, everybody pretty much who is educated in Egypt, all the qualified businesspeople, all the professionals, are all on the 36 percent who are rejecting the constitution. So, you need to get the two together. You need to get the qualified people to be part of the system.

And, so far, Mr. Morsi has been not reaching out to the rest of the country. And he needs to do that, because this is where the reservoir of the qualified people who can jump-start the economy, who can work on the education, the health care, all the basic needs that are sorely needed here right now.

GWEN IFILL: But let’s go back for a moment. Was there any evidence you have found so far of fraud or irregularities in the vote?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: There’s a lot of complaints about irregularity.

And I do believe that there has been irregularity. People have been denied access to the polling stations. People voting in groups, there has been some of that. But the fact that it has been passed — however, I do believe either that the referendum will not cleanse that document, because, as I said, it has intrinsic illegitimacy because it defies certain basic human values that are enshrined in the declaration of — universal declaration of human rights, many of the other conventions that protect — guarantees freedom, guarantees human dignity.

And they are lacking there. One of the most dangerous parts in that constitution, that it opened the door for many controversial school of religious thoughts to — to seep through the legislative process and undermine the authority of the judiciary.

And that is one of the issues that is very — creates a lot of apprehension for many people here, because they do not want this — the country moving from — into a theocratic state, or moving from one authoritarian system under Mr. Mubarak to another authoritarian system wrapping itself around religion or with a religious favor.

So, there’s a lot of serious apprehensions right now about this document. How to get out of here, I mean, Mr. Morsi is saying let us talk starting tomorrow about amending that charter, which is — it can just give you an indication of how funny the whole the process has been.

Here is a constitution that has been adopted today, and he’s inviting the opposition to start identifying areas where we can agree as to how to amend that constitution.

GWEN IFILL: The opposition has lost every battle that it has had against President Morsi since he took over last June. Are you too fractured to oppose him in an effective way?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: We have been fractured in the past.

I mean, don’t forget that after the uprising, after the revolution, the Brotherhood has been underground for 80 years. It has been reaching out to the grassroots, providing social services. They had excellent connection with the average Joe, if you like.

The opposition has been six months old. Liberal parties has been established in the last few months and has been fractured. Right now, I think only in the last month we have been getting together, establishing a united front. I think we’re moving — gaining ground right now.

If you compare the referendum a year-and-a-half ago, we got 23 percent. This time, we got 36 percent. We do hope that at the coming parliamentary election, we can get a majority. If we do that, then we finally would be able to correct the path of the revolution, establish an Egypt that is focused on human dignity, guarantees of freedom.

We do need that everybody around the world to stand up and be counted, frankly. We have a constitution right now that is not at all democratic. Everybody should put his money where his mouth is. Everybody should understand that stability will only come with democracy and not with pseudo-democracy.

We shouldn’t — we should not repeat the mistake, frankly, during Mubarak’s time that giving or sacrificing democracy on the altar of short-term geopolitical interests.

GWEN IFILL: And the next test will be the parliamentary elections in two months.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, thank you for joining us.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: We did ask representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood to appear on the program tonight, but none was available. We hope to bring you that view tomorrow.