Egyptians head to the polls this Saturday to vote on a new constitution in the midst of a political firestorm that is threatening to break down the country’s fragile post-revolutionary achievements. Egypt’s previous constitution, which has been suspended since former president Hosni Mubarak’s February 2011 ouster, is scheduled to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed charter. Saturday’s second-round election will take place in 17 of Egypt’s 27 provinces, one week after voters in 10 provinces cast their ballots in a first-round marked by low turnout.
The referendum has ignited disagreements between Islamists and an opposition coalition of liberal parties and youth groups backed by Christians and moderate Muslims. After president Mohamed Morsi unilaterally decreed greater authority for himself, the opposition has had cause to fear the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to monopolize power. The proposed constitution is based on Islamic Shariah law and would give clerics a greater role in political affairs, raising alarms for many within the opposition.
Following approval of the draft constitution last month, over 200,000 opponents of Morsi gathered to rally in the symbolic Tahrir Square. Many decried his refusal to call off the referendum, though he was later forced to concede and cancel the decrees that gave him immunity from judicial oversight.
This week the opposition called its supporters to reject the Islamist-backed charter and pledged to fight on to amend it during elections next year. On Friday, Islamists held a massive rally in the country’s second largest city of Alexandria to show solidarity with religious clerics.
More than 25 million Egyptians are eligible to cast a ballot in the decisive vote. Once again, the country’s future is in the hands of Egyptians. Morsi will have to take heed of voters’ wishes, though allegations of voting violations may complicate the impact of the result. Should he choose to ignore them, the future of the country’s young democracy will be more opaque than ever.