Friday, March 25, 2011

Text of Report by EASD on Egyptian Constitutional Referendum

You can view the website of the Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development regarding the Constitutional Referendum here. The text of their report is not available on their website, so I am posting it here. I will put my comments in a separate post. WMB

The Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development (EASD)

Report on Monitoring the Referendum on the Constitutional Amendments: The Beginning

Address; 5, 162 St, next to Hadayeq al-Maadi Metro Station

Tele: (02) 25288832 - 25288834



The Egyptian Association for Supporting Democratic Development (EASD) monitored the referendum on the constitutional amendments held on Saturday March 19 using 3700 volunteer monitors deployed across all governorates. EASD has vast expertise in electoral observation as it monitored various Egyptian elections, such as the presidential elections in September 2005 up until the November 2010's People's Assembly polls, which was marred by fraud and was seen as a trigger for the 25 January revolution. The recent uprising opened up vistas for rebuilding the country – which was hijacked by totalitarianism, and repression of freedoms – on the basis of democracy and participation. EASD underlines that this stage requires all efforts to be consolidated and underlines the need for establishing democratic values, which would further national development and reform, as well as allow Egyptians to play a role in governing their country In this context EASD reiterates its appreciation for the high turnout seen in the long lines outside polling stations since the early hours of the morning until the closing. This is a huge transformation never before witnessed in Egypt in 60 years and asserts that free and fair elections are the only means for peaceful transition of power in Egypt. Despite the fact that some irregularities - which indicated lack of capabilities and misadministration – were detected by EASD observers, they, under no circumstances, detracted from the fairness of the whole referendum. In this context, EASD calls on all Egyptians across all political spectrums to accept the results of the referendum. Maintaining this big turnout of ordinary citizens should be seen as a common goal by all parties as well as political and social powers, to safeguard any future attempts at rigging votes in any election.

EASD presents its report on the referendum to the Egyptian and international public and reiterates its concern and hope that this report will encourage larger turnout of Egyptian voters in upcoming elections. It is also hoped that this report will help enhance the electoral system and performance by different players, ensuring the implementation of approved international standards with regard to free and fair elections

EASD, through monitoring all details of referendum in polling stations, has made a number of conclusions, most notably:

First: Noticeably Insufficient Administrative Preparations for the Referendum

Lack of organization for the referendum was apparent throughout the day. As a direct result, several missteps occurred which, on some occasions, stalled the voting. the mistakes were not so serious, however, as to have a direct impact on the process. Some judges were not notified of the polling stations they were assigned to – until the eve of the referendum – which caused confusion, especially for those whose duty stations were located beyond the perimeters of Greater Cairo.

Most notable incidents:

• Delay in opening some polling stations across the country; some opened as late as 1:00 p.m. as in the districts of Naga Hamadi, Qus and Ra'yssia, Qena which prompted the Judicial Committee to send the judicial officers by military aircraft, upon the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)

• Lack of glass boxes and use of wooden ones instead in some polling stations

• Lack of voting instructions placed outside polling centers

• Insufficient indelible ink as compared to the number of voters which led some of the heads of the polling stations to dilute it with water or to neglect using it altogether. This could have led to incidents of multiple-voting, in violation of the instructions of the Judicial Committee and the provisions of the law, especially as no voter registration lists were used.

• Many ballot papers were unstamped by the judicial committee supervising the referendum, which raised many questions and speculation about their validity and provided a chance for vote-rigging. EASD submitted a complaint to the judicial committee as regards this issue, which prompted the Judicial Committee chief to announce that judges' signatures would be sufficient to prove the validity of unstamped ballot papers. This underlined the fact that the Committee was unprepared to conduct the referendum. However this problem was further aggravated when some judges overseeing polling stations refused to affix their signatures to ballot papers, in contravention of the decision by the Committee's chief, rendering these votes invalid and discarded while counting.

• Lack of curtains that ensure secrecy of the vote inside polling stations, as one of the guarantees of fairness and transparency. Thus votes were cast before judicial officers and secretaries of polling stations. In some polling station secretaries cast the ballot on behalf of voters, which resulted in altercations and – in some cases – escalated to scuffles

• The Judicial Committee did not grant election-monitoring organizations a sufficient number of accreditations, in accordance with the lists provided to the Committee; EASD, for instance, had 3700 volunteer monitors yet the Committee accepted lists of only 1567 monitors, claiming it to be a large number. Late on Thursday night March 17, 2011, only 813 observers received accreditations, as the Committee cited it ran short of accreditations ready for distribution. On the whole, only 3000 accreditations were given out to Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and media professionals, which again suggested that the Judicial Committee was not ready for the referendum on the constitutional amendments.

Second: Performance by the Judicial Committee during the Referendum

In order for EASD to undertake its role in monitoring the referendum, in support of increased participation and concern with public affairs, it initiated a request to the Judicial Committee overseeing the elections and the SCAF to allow the observation of the referendum on the constitutional amendments.

As soon as the Committee announced the starting date for receiving monitoring requests by CSOs, EASD officials met with the Committee's members and demonstrated the Association's activities and monitoring expertise. The EASD officers made a request for 3700 observer accreditations yet encountered three problems while dealing with the committee:

- EASD was surprised to know that the first decision issued by the Judicial Committee did not approve "observation/monitoring", rather "following up". It also indicated the need for observers to get the permission of the head of polling station to do their job. The decision also gave the head of the polling stations the authority to specify the period during which monitors are allowed within, which is in total violation with international monitoring standards and does not differ from the restrictions imposed by the previous committees supervising elections prior to 25 January revolution.

- EASD requested 3700 observer accreditations yet the committee received lists of only 1567 monitors and refused to receive any more despite the fact that EASD had all the papers fulfilled. EASD was thus forced to present a complaint to SCAF and to the Committee, which refused to be served, and promised additional 1,567 accreditations within 24 hours.

- When EASD received the accreditations, they were surprised to learn that there was only one judge and another officer responsible for issuing the required accreditations. EASD’s offer to provide volunteers to assist with these procedures was turned down and the Association ended up with only 813 accreditations.

Regarding the attitude of polling station officers on the day of the referendum, EASD observers noted that:

- A number of monitors holding accreditations were denied access to polling stations

- A number of observers were ill-treated, and harassed in the vicinity of polling stations

Due to these incidents, EASD submitted a complaint at 15:00 hours. via email, requesting immediate intervention to protect and enable monitors to carry out their duties. Another complaint was lodged by EASD, in relation to the refusal by some judges to sign the unstamped ballots, in violation of the decision by the Judicial Committee chief, Jurist Mohamed Ahmed Attiya. Specific incidents were presented, yet the Committee took no action and did not intervene to investigate either complaint. While pointing out such instances, EASD is underlines that:

The attitude and procedures towards domestic electoral monitoring have not changed. The role of electoral observation is still not recognized as a basic practice that guarantees fair and transparent elections and upholds democratic values as the best option for the future of the country.

There is a serious need to establish an independent committee for electoral procedures. In this regard, EASD will submit a detailed proposal to SCAF, the Prime Minister, and the Judicial Committee overseeing the elections, with regard to the formation and mandate of the Judicial committee supervising the elections Third: Remarkable Voter Turnout in the Referendum Active political participation is a mainstay of democratic systems. It is inconceivable that there is a democracy without the active and effective participation of citizens. In the past, our reports regularly indicated that the Egyptian society underwent – as it were – a turnout crisis, as evidenced in low turnout rates in different polls. This suggested the unwillingness by the vast majority of voters to take part in public affairs, which is a national duty, as per the provision of article 62 of the Constitution. These low turnout rates moreover served to assert the lack of confidence and conviction in the state. The political process itself was mistrusted by the Egyptian public due to practices that lasted for over half a century where state agencies denied people all political practices, including the vote. Nevertheless, all Egyptians have now become concerned with Egypt's future. There is a renewed hope that Egyptians' aspiration to attain a better democratic future can be achieved. This referendum was a long-awaited dream and Egyptians indeed rose up to the responsibility laid squarely on their shoulders at this critical point in time. The greatest achievement of this revolution – although it was not on the demand list – is that it renewed a sense of ownership and revived awareness which was lost while the previous regime was in power.

The January 25 revolution ushered in a new era, a break with a past monopolized by a totalitarian power where citizens had no role to play. However, now all Egyptians from different walks of life and across all age groups proved that they are qualified for democracy, unlike what other figures from the old regime maintained.

Egyptians impatiently anticipated the March 19 referendum on constitutional amendments to express their future aspirations. The turnout rate, 41% of eligible voters, was unprecedented in Egypt's modern history, Formerly, turnout rate stood at 15% at best. The official figures indicate that 18,366,764 voters cast the ballot in 43,059 polling stations, with 18,366,764 valid votes, and 171,190 invalid votes. Some 14,192,577 votes endorsed the amendments while 4,174,178 ballots rejected them. EASD stresses the need to enact the right of Egyptians living abroad (up to 10 million) to vote, as they enjoy all citizenship rights, at the heart of which lies the right to participate in public affairs. The civilized conduct shown by the Egyptian public should be commended as laws, orders and instructions were duly observed. The bodies overseeing the referendum also have eased procedures for voters and removed obstacles which have always stood in the way between Egyptians and ballot boxes. Electoral bribery and violence almost disappeared, the credit for which should be given to the bodies administering the vote. What should also be noted and celebrated is the strong participation of women, youth and Copts - groups which were far removed from the political process.

Youth Involvement: Youth were always absent from the political scene and had to pay the price for the wrongdoings of previous governments, so much that many risked death in open seas en route to foreign countries – where there might be a slim chance to work – rather than live in Egypt. Young people's aspirations and dreams were always met with desperation which drove many of them to withdraw from participation in public affairs, dismissing it as futile.

Such notion, however, no longer holds true after the youth-led revolution, which managed to topple President Mubarak and his regime from power. Most touching was the feeling that Egyptians restored their control over the country. In order to safeguard the gains achieved during the revolution against the thugs of the old regime, young people organically formed popular committees to protect and secure public properties. On March 19, the youth not only strongly participated in the referendum on the constitutional amendments, they also invited everyone to take part in the vote. Added to that are their efforts in organizing voters in and out of polling stations and providing assistance to the bodies overseeing the polls.

Women’s Participation. Remarkable was the high turnout of women in the referendum, who came from all social, cultural, educational and economical backgrounds. It suggested that their former disengagement was due to the electoral process previously in place, which was marred by widespread fraud, violence and thuggery that might have endangered their lives. With most of these factors eliminated, women's turnout for the first time matched their voting bloc, which stands at 40% of all eligible voters.

Copt's Involvement. One of the most remarkable outcomes of the Egyptian revolution was the return of Copts' to the ballot boxes and public life, after long decades of disengagement. For fifty years, Copts withdrew from the political scene, except for rare incidents, with no effective or active participation. The church had replaced the state. Yet after January 25, Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians, retook possession of their country and expressed determination to work together for Egypt's progress.

Fourth- Escalation of Sectarian Tensions In the run-up to the referendum, heated arguments erupted among the Egyptian public, with some opposing and others endorsing the constitutional amendments. Every party was so excited to defend its view, a democratic practice which has been absent for so long. The majority of political parties and youth groups that emerged after 25 January as well as the Copts refused the amendments, while the MB, Salafists and the remnants of the National Democratic Party endorsed them. On the polling day, some MB and Salafists rallied before polling stations, which led to some tensions between MB members on one hand and Copts on the other hand. There were calls to endorse the amendments on the grounds that Coptic Christians wanted to revoke article 2 of the constitution which cites Egypt's Muslim identity. Similarly, Copts seemed to reject the amendments for fear that they lay the ground for a religious state endorsed by MB and Salafists.

Different groups tried to influence voters, most particularly MB members and Salafists who held up banners that read "Yes to the Constitutional Amendments". Some of the arguments they used were to convince people to endorse the constitutional changes because Copts rejected them. On the whole, the voting took a sectarian turn which led to scuffles between the two camps supporting and opposing the amendments. MB members in Hawamdia district, in the October 6 governorate, set up a sound system outside a polling station in Manial Sheha and called on people to say yes to the amendments for fear that Copts would control the country. This only increased the threat of sectarian tensions; however the fact is that not everyone who endorsed the amendments was affiliated to a religious group, nor everyone who rejected them is a Copt, or a secularist.

In fact, voting during the final hours of the referendum on sectarian basis in many areas detracted from Egyptians' excitement and celebratory mood. It moreover conjures up other similar crises that many countries underwent, especially when politics was run against a backdrop of religious conflicts as in Lebanon.

EASD reasserts the need for all Egyptians from across the social spectrum to build a modern civil state, based on citizenship, irrespective of religion, race, sexual orientation tribal and/or sectarian prejudices that threaten the unity of the nation and undermine the gains of the revolution.

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