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Referendum in Egypt Shows New Stage In Struggle

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. In Egypt, a large turnout of Egyptians at the referendum on the new constitution that was presented by the military–the reforms proposed by the military seem to be accepted by the majority of Egyptians. Now joining us from London to discuss what happened and why is Gilbert Achcar. He teaches at the Oriental and African Studies Department at the University of London. Thanks for joining us, Gilbert.

GILBERT ACHCAR, PROFESSOR OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES: Thank you, Paul. Pleasure.

JAY: Most of the opposition that we knew that were in Tahrir Square and were leading the downfall of Mubarak said to vote no on this referendum on the new constitution, but a yes vote won. So what happened?

ACHCAR: There has been a growing division over the last days between the Muslim Brotherhood plus other Islamic organizations, on the one hand, and liberal, democratic, and left-wing currents in the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood supported the constitutional amendments and called for a vote, a yes vote in the referendum, along with the National Democratic Party, that is, the ruling party, what used to be the ruling party, Mubarak’s party or the regime’s party, and the military behind all that. So you had this convergence of the Muslim Brotherhood and some satellite organizations and the military and the regime party against the rest of the opposition, which is opposed to these amendments, because they consider that these amendments are a way to circumvent a basic demand of the uprising, which was the constituent assembly, a demand that the Tunisian uprising was able recently to impose, and which the Egyptian uprising, at least until now, has not been able to impose. The military tried to circumvent this demand by creating a committee for elaborating amendments for the Constitution. They appointed a member of the Muslim Brotherhood as part of this committee, so in order to concretize this collaboration. And now they are reaping the fruits of that in this collusion between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military in speeding up what the military consider to be–their conception of the orderly transition.

JAY: Now, one of the reasons the Muslim Brotherhood supported this constitution is because the elections happened more quickly than the other parts of the opposition wanted, and that favors the bigger, established parties.

ACHCAR: Yes. I mean, the rest of the opposition was asking–and still asking–for a presidential council dominated by civilians to rule the country instead of the military, and for elections for a constituent assembly, which will draft a new constitution. They were and are still in favor of postponing the parliamentary elections instead of holding them, as the military intend to do, supported on this again by the Muslim Brotherhood. The key point here is that the regime’s party, which now is the military’s party, and the Muslim Brotherhood are the two strongest organized forces in Egypt. And the sooner you have elections, the better it is for them in order to win the lion’s share in these elections, whereas the rest of the opposition, most of which is composed of relatively new political forces, needs more time to get organized, to prepare themselves, and to wage the battle. And the same could be said about this referendum, which comes too early, with not enough time for the democratic and left-wing opposition to organize themselves, facing people with much bigger means, and campaigned in the streets, and all that, waged by the Muslim Brotherhood. Plus the regime has been enormous. And even very demagogic arguments have been used in this campaign, like, you know, a shameless, cynical exploitation of religion, and, you know, calling people, explaining, you know, by some, you know, hard, fundamentalist groups that voting against the amendments would be a vote against God, that voting for the amendments is a religious duty, and such unscrupulous kind of arguments. And, of course, the democratic and left-wing opposition is quite bitter.

JAY: So is the key thing here that we’re seeing a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood, the military, and the elite that previously backed Mubarak more or less reestablish the old order, but giving the Muslim Brotherhood more room to operate?

ACHCAR: Well, not exactly the old order. This is the so-called, in Washingtonese, orderly transition under military control, that is, moving to some kind of electoral regime, electoral democracy, but tightly controlled by the military and through this collusion between them and the Muslim Brotherhood, with the Muslim Brotherhood pledging not to field candidates into more than one-third of the constituencies in the parliamentary election, pledging not to present a presidential candidate of their own, so really, you know, making these pledges to the military and behind the military to Washington in saying, we are not bidding for power, we are ready and willing to collaborate, provided we can move freely and we get what we want. And I should say that most of the demands that the Muslim Brotherhood were raising have been achieved until now, and not the demands of the rest of the opposition.

JAY: Now, I saw the leaders of the youth movement just in the last few couple of days refuse to meet with Hillary Clinton, who was in visiting Egypt. What state is that movement in? And where are we at in terms of the workers movements and the attempts to build independent unions?

ACHCAR: This is going on, workers movement, and the attempts [inaudible] you know, very systematic efforts being deployed at organizing this big working class potential that emerged again during the uprising. And forming and stabilizing independent unions was very important demand. One of the key demands that is yet to be fulfilled is–the freedom to form unions is absolutely crucial and essential, along with the freedom to form political parties, for any future of democracy in Egypt. And as for the issue of Hillary Clinton, well, the image of the United States is extremely negative. People know how close the United States was to the regime. And people know also–and, I mean, now, in this opposition that is continuing the fight against the military higher command, they know also where Washington stands in this cleavage, in this division. So there are no illusions about the United States. And contrary to what people think, there are no illusions about the United States in Egypt.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Gilbert.

ACHCAR: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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