Amid the continuing unrest in Egypt, President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has now decided to bifurcate the referendum on the proposed sharia constitution. The voting will go forward as scheduled this Saturday, but only in ten governorates. The rest of the country will then vote the following Saturday, December 22.
The whole point of Morsi’s presidency, the point of everything he’s done for the last five months, is the implementation of a sharia constitution. As I explain in Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy (soon to be published in paperback), that is what Morsi and the Brotherhood promised to do during the campaign leading to his election as president. Sharia implementation is the goal behind his seizures of dictatorial powers: In August, Morsi awarded himself legislative authority in the wake of the then-ruling junta’s dissolution of the elected, Islamist-dominated parliament in order to ensure that the Islamist agenda proceeded. In late November, he declared his “sovereign” acts immune from judicial review specifically to protect the Islamist-dominated “constituent assembly” that was writing the sharia constitution from being invalidated by the courts.
The ongoing, occasionally lethal controversy over the constitution brings into sharp relief the fraud that is the “Arab Spring” narrative. Morsi, an authoritarian, anti-democratic, sharia hardliner, is lauded as Egypt’s “democratic” ruler because he won a popular election. He is desperate to put his illiberal, liberty-strangling, anti-democratic sharia constitution to a popular vote because he believes that he will win. And with good reason: before Mubarak fell, polling showed that upwards of two-thirds of Egyptians wanted to live under sharia rule; and since Mubarak fell, Islamic supremacists have won popular elections by comfortable margins.
By contrast, Morsi’s opposition — a mixed bag of secularists, leftists, libertarians, authentically moderate Muslims, and religious minorities — condemns the draft constitution as a betrayal of their “democratic” revolution … but the last thing they want is for that proposition to be tested at the ballot box. They rail against Morsi’s power grabs, against the lack of “societal consensus” in the sharia constitution, and against the purportedly invalid constitution-writing “process” because they are desperate to prevent a referendum they are almost certain to lose. Despite the Western media’s mirage of a “democratic” upheaval led by youthful, secular Facebook revolutionaries and such darlings of the Left as Mohammed ElBaradei, the non-Islamists know they are the minority. They also know the West’s democracy fetish is such that a constitution that wins a popular election will be hailed as a triumph of democracy, no matter how much it undermines human rights.
Morsi is bifurcating the referendum because it will help the sharia constitution win. Under Egyptian law, the judiciary is supposed to monitor elections. Because the judiciary is one of the remaining institutions in which the secularists and the old regime enjoy at least a toe-hold, many judges have threatened to boycott the referendum. By staggering the election, fewer judges will be needed for monitoring on each day of voting. In addition, in a bifurcated election, the strong Brotherhood network — unmatched by anything the opposition can muster — will concentrate its full get-out-the-vote effort in smaller areas on each election day. When the parliamentary elections were similarly staggered, the Islamists won by an overwhelming 4-to-1 margin.