Just look to Egypt for the latest proof that the road to democracy is rocky and perilous. After weeks of protests and concerns over President Mohamed Morsi assuming expansive presidential powers–which I covered here–assertions of foul play during that the past weekend’s national constitutional referendum have come to light.
Voter turnout is estimated at just 30%, with the opposition National Salvation Front maintaining “fraud and violation” took place, including polling stations keeping irregular hours, Islamists seeking to influence voters, and not enough judges on-site to supervise proceedings & ensure appropriate operations. Egypt’s national election commission is in the midst of investigating these claims.
Egypt’s opposition is also critical of the constitution itself, which some believe fails to protect the freedoms and human rights many expected after Hosni Mubarak’s regime was toppled in the Arab Spring. The Muslim Brotherhood-authored constitution sent to the people has the backing of President Mohamed Morsi. But he has been accused of weighting the document towards Islamists, and providing insufficient protection of the rights of women or Christians.
The constitution would require any national legislation be based on Sharia law, with laws applying to Jews and Christians deriving from those religions. Presidents would be limited to 2 terms of office. National elections would be mandated within 2 months of approving the constitution; early results indicate over 60% of Egyptians voted in favor of the proposal.
When it comes to creating laws to govern a nation, there will never be universal agreement; just look at the heated debate and controversy over the US constitution as it was being drafted. But certain rights and freedoms must be protected for all people, regardless of religion or political affiliations. And of course coercion or election misconduct must be identified and addressed to the greatest degree possible. If Morsi & co. are truly committed to democracy they should follow through on the referendum investigations, even if they don’t like the findings.
Morsi and Egypt’s first democratically elected government will have to earn their legitimacy to be accepted. Showing that constitution truly reflects the people’s will is an important step in this process. So will allowing the opposition to voice its opinions openly. People who disagree with those in power keep the government accountable. Egypt may be new to this concept, but needs to accept it if its democracy is to take hold.