The official results of the Egyptian referendum have been announced: 27.1% participation, 75.9% voting yes. Al-Ahram, the official mouthpiece of the Egyptian regime (it used to be "semi-official" until a non-entity was appointed as editor in place of Ibrahim Nafie, who was corrupt and imperious but enough of a player to maintain some degree of independence when he felt like it), has announced the resounding success of the Egyptian referendum. Massive public turnout! "The boycott fails, the opposition participates", reads another headline!
Here's 80% of the reported turnout right here (photo: al-Ahram)
Meanwhile, in the real world, turnout was extremely low. Egypt's leading independent newspaper, al-Masry al-Youm, led with the headline "nothing new": "nothing happened yesterday.. the referendum ended as it began, with little popular acceptance." It also reported on the "unprecedented" military presence in the city center, the rough treatment of protestors and of would-be electoral observers, and widespread allegations of NDP "vote-buying" and other shenanigans (only 20 pounds for a vote in one district, but you could get 100 for your vote in another). The claimed 27.1% is obviously absurd; the only real question is whether the "less than 1%" claimed by al-Mesryoon or the 2-3% claimed by independent observers is too low, and whether a figure of 5-8% would be more realistic. And that, by the way, would include all of the government employees ordered to vote and the women ordered "to go vote for the President." Whether this should be seen as a "success" for the opposition which called a boycott, or else just the natural course of events in an apathetic and politically alienated society, will no doubt be a matter of much debate.
Outside of the official Egyptian media, there's no question that the referendum failed to win any popular mandate whatsoever. Here's my rough scorecard of successes and failures of this process. First, the regime succeeded at getting its new constitution. Gamal's succession has become more likely. NDP single party domination of the political system has been entrenched for the forseeable future. Repression of the Muslim Brotherhood and of all forms of independent political organization got easier. The security state is now established on constitutional foundations - though, truth be told, the regime was perfectly able to do all of those things before anyway under the cover of Emergency Laws. And the Egyptian regime succeeded in brushing off any suggestion of American criticism, openly laughing as they rubbed Condi Rice's nose in American impotence.
On the flip side, the referendum exposed the very low legitimacy of the process. The low turnout for the referendum and the highly critical international coverage combined to deny the regime any legitimation benefits from the constitutional reforms. While tempers will cool, a very wide swathe of the country's political elite is infuriated and alienated. The regime is more fragile now, less legitimate, and will have an ever harder time carrying on with business as usual. And it was good to see the American media take notice over the last few days, to realize exactly what this says about Bush's foreign policy. Mubarak was almost certainly hoping that the upcoming Arab summitt meeting and moves on the Palestinian-Israeli front would crowd Egyptian domestic politics out of the international news agenda; thanks to all of those who focused attention on the issue, that didn't happen.
The verdict on the Kefaya movement is mixed. On the one hand, activists clearly failed to mobilize mass protests, and suffered under the naked repression of the security forces. On the other hand, they managed a fairly high public profile, in the international media especially but also in the Egyptian debate. Today's press conference with Kefaya leaders received equal time on al-Jazeera with Mubarak and Anis al-Faqi's official pronouncements (I'm pretty sure I saw George Ishaq at the press conference, so whatever happened to him the other day he appears to be all right - I'm sure the story will come out soon). Both are no doubt due to the Muslim Brotherhood's decision to boycott but not protest: this gave the Kefaya people the chance to be the public face of the protests, such as they were. Beyond the movement per se, it will be interesting to see if blogs can produce enough video or other documentary evidence of vote fraud to have an impact, as in the exposure of the police abuse videos.
Will update as the day goes on.