The “No Vote” lost…overwhelmingly. There is no point in sugar-coating the outcome; when you lose an election by 40, 50 or 60 percentage points, it is a landslide loss. Yes, the voting process was unprecedented and civilized, and yes it got the blood flowing in the veins and raised civic awareness, and yes, the no vote had to campaign against the odds, but the end result is that the groundwork is in place for the Muslim Brotherhood, in alliance with the thugs of the past, to set the terms for the Constitutional direction of Egypt.
The reform movement in Egypt needs to mature, and do so with immediate effect. Not in six weeks, six months or most probably six years, will it be possible to educate and convince forty million Egyptians of the importance of defending individual rights enshrined in a modern Constitutional structure that supports a liberal political and socio-economic society. Instead, the focus of the reformists must be on educating and convincing those in positions of authority of this, which requires a credible and organized political leadership that understands how to engage in the real world of politics, and not just in the kinder world of promoting popular engagement. As important as the grassroots are, without top-down leadership, this revolution will continue to fall victim to cunning opportunists who are capitalizing on the military’s anxiety with being in the spotlight, the White House’s misguided accommodation of political Islam, and Egyptian society’s conservative leanings, to further their own, pessimistic agenda.
The occurrence of this vote was not inevitable, even if, once held, the outcome of it was. Neither the military, the White House nor broad segments of society - including at least parts of the conservative, rural heart of Egypt - wants to see the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda imposed on them. But the military was not sufficiently convinced that there was an alternative approach that offered them a practical path forward. Similarly, the White House has not been convinced that there is a truly viable alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood (note: when the secretary of state of the United States offers to meet with you, accept the invitation and stop grandstanding to show off your revolutionary credentials). And Egyptian society is skeptical and growing impatient with arguments about the Constitution that are simply too convoluted to seem to matter enough for them to believe it merits more debate and uncertainty.
The reform movement needs to find credible leadership that can change this dynamic. They need to lobby the military leaders and their backers in the White House and Pentagon to be on their side, by showing they have a program in place that is capable of producing a strong, stable and secular Egypt, in contrast to a perilous Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood would be if not the government, at least the shadow government calling many of the shots. Egyptian society will fall in line with the direction provided by the authorities, and the reform movement must help the authorities help themselves by pointing them in the right direction.
The referendum was a lost battle. Battles ahead must be won, even if doing so comes at the price of less inclusiveness and participation. It’s time to take off the baby gloves.