Egypt sets referendum as coup regime cracks down on activists

A 50-person committee to draft an amended Egyptian constitution completed its work. The military-appointed regime that came to power through an army coup on July 3 of last year is encouraging people to vote in the upcoming national referendum on Jan. 14-15.

The regime’s operatives have shown concern that a low turnout will damage the coveted “legitimacy” they so desperately crave. A number of organizations have already called for a boycott of the vote based upon the undemocratic character under which the process was ­conducted.

Opponents of the referendum include the Muslim Brotherhood as well as some secular left and liberal organizations that had initially supported the July 3 military coup. These have formed a new opposition coalition, the Way of the Revolution Front, which includes the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Egypt Strong Party.

Other Islamist groups are also boycotting the referendum, including the Salafist Front, reputed to be one of the largest of such organizations in the region, and the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyaa, another religious party.

The Salafist Al-Nour Party, which had fallen out with the government of Mohamed Morsi during 2013, is supporting the referendum. Other supporters of the referendum are the Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, the Popular Current, the National Salvation Front as well as the leadership of the Coptic Church. Copts are Egyptian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population.

The so-called Tamarod, or rebel group, which is credited with organizing the anti-Morsi demonstrations last June prior to the coup, says it is supporting the referendum vote. Tamarod in the past encouraged military strongman Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi to enter the upcoming presidential race.

An article published by the state-owned Ahram website in Cairo points out that on Jan. 6, “Interim President Adly Mansour amended the political rights law. Citizens can now vote at polling stations not affiliated to their registered addresses in the upcoming constitution referendum.”

This new declaration is a clear attempt to encourage people to participate in what many in Egypt consider to be an illegitimate process. A governmental decree is altering rules that had prevailed during the local and national elections of 2011 and 2012.

The same article points this out by noting, “Special polling stations will be designated to receive voters who do not reside at their registered addresses. Voters in parliamentary polls in 2011, as well as the presidential election and constitution referendum in 2012, had to vote at specific polling stations linked to the addresses mentioned on their national identity card or passport.”

These maneuvers show that the proponents of the military coup that deposed the elected government of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who ruled on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood’s allied Freedom and Justice Party, are uncertain that their actions enjoy the approval of key sections of the Egyptian population.

Clashes continue

During the exam period at some of Egypt’s leading universities, students have been boycotting exams and staging mass demonstrations. Late last year the Egyptian interim government imposed a ban on unapproved protests.

The regime has arrested and imprisoned numerous activists for participating in unapproved demonstrations. These include opposing military rule and opposing the national referendum that would legitimize the current political order. On Dec. 22, activists Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, both of the April 6 Youth Movement, and blogger Ahmed Douma were sentenced to three years in prison in addition to monetary fines for participating in unapproved demonstrations.

On Jan. 3, at least 17 people were killed in clashes between coup opponents and the security forces in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria, Fayoum and Ismailia. Some 50 others were injured as police violently suppressed efforts to protest against the upcoming referendum.

Also on the same day, 122 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested. The coup regime banned this movement and labelled the Brotherhood a “terrorist organization.” reported on Jan. 4 that leading members of the Brotherhood have been faced with economic sanctions. These actions are aimed at making it almost impossible for the group to function.

According to, “Furthermore, Egypt froze the assets of 132 senior Brotherhood members following a court decree in September which banned the Islamist movement. On [Jan. 1] an additional 572 Brotherhood members had their assets frozen by the state which also took over 87 schools run by the Brotherhood.”

A series of bomb attacks have also escalated tensions inside the country. The military regime blamed the bombings on the Muslim Brotherhood, even though another organization, Ansar Bait Al-Maqdis, claimed it did them.

On Dec. 24, a bombing killed 15 people at the security directorate in the city of Mansoura in the Nile Delta region. Later on Dec. 29, another intelligence building was destroyed in Sharqiya also in the Nile Delta, where four soldiers were wounded.

Also on Dec. 29, a bomb was defused at a building in the Al-Azhar University medical complex at New Damietta city north of Cairo. Later on Jan. 1, a bomb exploded near a bus in Nasr City in eastern Cairo, wounding four people.

In the Sinai region fighting has been taking place over the last several months. Reports indicate that some 100 police and military personnel have been killed in this natural gas-producing region of Egypt on the border with the occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza.

U.S. steps up intervention

In response to these attacks, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pledged Washington’s support in investigating the incidents. Egypt is the recipient of $1.5 billion in annual assistance from the administration, most of it for military equipment.

Although the Obama administration claimed earlier in 2013 that it was suspending some of its aid to Egypt, Secretary of State John Kerry later said during a brief visit to Cairo that this was not a comprehensive halt and that the U.S. would continue to maintain relations with the military regime in Egypt.

While the Obama administration has expressed criticism of the coup regime’s tactics, over decades U.S. imperialism has built its closest relations with Egypt’s top military officers, who are also an integral part of the Egyptian capitalist class. These officers are the key to U.S. influence in Egypt.

Hagel said in a statement that Washington expressed its condolences for those killed in the bombings and “condemned the attacks and offered the assistance of the Department of Defense to help the Egyptian government investigate. We are expressing concerns about the political climate in advance of the constitutional referendum, including the continued enforcement of a restrictive demonstrations law.”(AFP, Dec. 29)

The politically sensitive situation in Egypt has created concern over criticism outside the country as well. Both the governments of Qatar and Iran have been cited by the Egyptian regime for alleged interference in the country’s internal affairs.

A Jan. 6 Reuters report notes, “Egypt on Monday summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires in Cairo to protest over recent Iranian statements on Egypt, the foreign ministry said. Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said last Saturday that her country was worried by the recent escalation in violence between Egypt’s army and protesters supporting former Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.”

The Qatar monarchy’s representative as well has been summoned by the Egyptian authorities. The government of Qatar had supported the previous government of ousted President Mohamed Morsi and pledged billions of dollars in financial assistance.

However, a report by the Fars news agency said on Jan. 6, “The Egyptian authorities will recall their ambassador to Qatar after holding the vote on the draft constitution in mid-January for consultations. ‘The decision to recall the ambassador is a protest over the rejected Qatari interference in the Egyptian domestic affairs,’ official news agency MENA quoted a governmental source as saying.”

These developments indicate that the current Egyptian government is placing a tremendous amount of weight on carrying out the Jan. 14-15 referendum.