Campaigns urge vote on constitution, though draft still not finished

Although the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution hasn’t been released, campaigns for and against it have already launched in advance of the national referendum.

Starting a few weeks ago, a television campaign encouraging people to vote in the referendum began airing, without naming the sponsors behind the ad.

Advertising tycoon Tarek Nour narrates the commercial, which urges citizens to take part in the referendum in order to preserve Egypt’s image internationally — without clarifying what, precisely, voting would achieve in that regard. It then cuts to footage of Tahrir Square filled with protesters, and says that this is how Egyptians will be if they vote.

While the campaign doesn’t explicitly push for a yes vote, it clearly shows the yet-to-be-released constitution in a positive light. Underplaying the historic importance of this document, the ad acknowledges this may not be the best constitution ever, but assures viewers that this isn’t the last one Egypt will have.

Similarly, billboards have sprung up in different areas of the country stating that,  “Participating in the constitutional referendum means a yes vote to June 30 and January 25,” referring to the two waves of popular uprisings witnessed since 2011. While the ad only calls for participation, a green box filled with a big “yes” gets the underlying message across.

Rasha Abdulla, a mass communications professor at the American University in Cairo, told Mada Masr that the timing of these campaigns is significant.

“They are asking people to vote yes for something that they haven’t seen yet. This is blind obedience to the state, even without knowing what this state will bring about,” she cautioned.

Abdulla added that people have the right to know who is behind these campaigns, which she says are supporting state propaganda.

In 2011, Islamist forces tied a yes vote to stability and piety as they mobilized voters ahead of the referendum on amendments to the 1971 Constitution. Similarly, the current campaigns equate a yes vote with support for the revolution, without actually discussing the constitution’s content.

These campaigns also don’t acknowledge that some of the most contentious articles are yet to be finalized.

Many groups, including the April 6 Youth Movement and the No to Military Trials group, criticized the 50-member constitutional committee on Wednesday when it passed an article allowing military trials of civilians in certain circumstances.

Negotiations also continue between committee head Amr Moussa and church representatives, who had a meeting on Thursday to discuss the hotly contested Article 219, which outlines the sources of Sharia.

The committee announced that it would hold an internal vote on the final draft of the constitution next Saturday, and would put it out to the general public shortly thereafter.

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