Kerry Dismisses 98% Support for New Egypt Constitution as Just One Election and Not 'Inclusive'
When millions of Egyptians wanted the Muslim Brotherhood leadership out, President Obama noted that Mohammed Morsi won his presidential post in an election.
When nearly 20 million Egyptians -- more than 98 percent of votes cast -- approved a new constitution to replace the one forged by Islamists, Secretary of State John Kerry said elections aren't everything.
Egypt's new constitution was written by a committee of 50 including women, Christians, one Salafist and one independent Islamist, while the last constitution was written by the Muslim Brotherhood and associated Islamists. The new document forbids "religion, race, gender or geography" from being the basis to form a political party while guaranteeing freedom of religion and granting, for the first time, Copts the right to build churches without permission of the president. Women are recognized as equals in Egyptians society.
Several people died in clashes surrounding the voting sparked by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, who boycotted the vote. "Going to the polls was risky because of those who were trying to use violence to scare people from voting, but the army and the police exerted a great effort to protect the polls and to give assurance to the people who would like to vote...It was a phenomenon to see crowds of women at each poll, many of whom queued for hours to vote. Some of them were singing and rejoicing, and even dancing, before and after they cast their vote. There was a general spirit of joy among the people of Egypt who voted, in a way that never happened before. We, alongside other Christian denominations, encouraged the people of Egypt to fulfill their civil duty to vote and to pray for the future of Egypt," Mouneer Anis wrote of the scene on the ground. "...Many voters carried the photos of Field Marshall al-Sisi, the Minister of Defense, in an attempt to persuade him to run for the presidency. This is because al-Sisi was the one who responded to the request of the millions of demonstrators on 30 June who called for early Presidential elections and the removal of the former President."
But in a statement issued today, Kerry said it was just one vote and again called for inclusiveness -- a refrain the administration has used since the Morsi overthrown in an effort to get the Muslim Brotherhood back into the political landscape.
"Egypt's turbulent experiment in participatory democracy the last three years has reminded us all that it's not one vote that determines a democracy, it's all the steps that follow. It's a challenging transition that demands compromise, vigilance, and constant tending. The draft Egyptian constitution passed a public referendum this week, but it's what comes next that will shape Egypt’s political, economic and social framework for generations," Kerry said. "As Egypt’s transition proceeds, the United States urges the interim Egyptian government to fully implement those rights and freedoms that are guaranteed in the new constitution for the benefit of the Egyptian people, and to take steps towards reconciliation."
Kerry added that "the brave Egyptians who stood vigil in Tahrir Square did not risk their lives in a revolution to see its historic potential squandered in the transition."
"They've weathered ups and downs, disappointment and setbacks in the years that followed, and they're still searching for the promise of that revolution. They still know that the path forward to an inclusive, tolerant, and civilian-led democracy will require Egypt’s political leaders to make difficult compromises and seek a broad consensus on many divisive issues," he said.
"Democracy is more than any one referendum or election. It is about equal rights and protections under the law for all Egyptians, regardless of their gender, faith, ethnicity, or political affiliation."
Kerry said the U.S. government has "consistently expressed our serious concern about the limits on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in Egypt, including leading up to the referendum, just as we expressed our concerns about the dangerous path Egypt's elected government had chosen in the year that lead to 2013's turbulence."
He said they were using monitoring from the Carter Center and Democracy International to assess the fairness of the constitutional referendum and the "challenges ahead" including "Egypt’s polarized political environment, the absence of a fully inclusive process in drafting and debating the constitution ahead of the referendum, arrests of those campaigning against the constitution, and procedural violations during the referendum, such as campaigning in proximity to and inside polling stations and lack of ballot secrecy."
"We strongly encourage the interim Egyptian government to take these concerns into account as preparations are made for presidential and parliamentary elections," Kerry concluded. "The work that began in Tahrir Square must not end there. The interim government has committed repeatedly to a transition process that expands democratic rights and leads to a civilian-led, inclusive government through free and fair elections. Now is the time to make that commitment a reality and to ensure respect for the universal human rights of all Egyptians."