Some 64 percent of Egyptian voters have approved President Mohamed Mursi’s new constitution, according to unofficial results released on Sunday by the judicial authorities.
Mursi may be breathing a temporary sigh of relief, but his troubles are far from over. His organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, is reeling from the combined impact of crisis in the state and mass protests in the streets.
Hundreds of thousands demonstrated against Mursi’s attempts to seize more power for the presidency and marched against the draft constitution. Judges opposed to Mursi’s decisions are holding a sit-in in an attempt to force the attorney general to stand by his earlier decision to resign. Then on Sunday morning, Mursi’s vice president, Mahmoud Mekki, also stepped down.
The referendum did take place according to the timescale dictated by Mursi. But the solid “no” vote in many urban areas and low turnout will make it harder for the Muslim Brotherhood to regain the initiative. The capital city, Cairo, voted 57 percent against the constitution, while the “yes” campaign swept the polls in the rural south.
Just before the second round of the polls, Socialist Worker spoke to trade unionists in Tahrir Square about how they mobilised around the “no” campaign .
Mervat Mahmoud is from the Independent Property Tax Collectors’ Union in 6th October City, about 20 miles south of Cairo.
“I came with a delegation at the beginning of the protests,” she says. “Colleagues came from Suez, Port Sa’id, Dahaqiliyya, Alexandria, Giza, Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and Assiyut. Now they’ve returned home and are organising rallies and protests calling for the cancellation of the constitutional declaration and the Constituent Assembly.”
Her colleague Sherihan Sabry, an educational psychologist working in a Cairo primary school, reports a similar story. “We’ve also done the same thing in the Independent Teachers’ Union. Through the union we’ve organised in every governorate. We had protests in Alexandria and Port Sa’id for example. There were fantastic rallies and demonstrations and a lot of people took part in the provinces.”
Teachers are furious that the constitution doesn’t clearly specify citizens’ rights to education, Sherihan says. “We want to raise the general level of education and change the educational system and the curriculum completely. All the phrases about education in the constitution are just rubber-stamp expressions. Even the part which mentioned free education was removed.”
A number of strikes raising general economic demands have won victories in the midst of the current crisis. Workers brought the Cairo Metro to a standstill in mid-November, and the authorities caved in after five hours. Rifaat Arafat, the president of the independent union that led the strike, said that workers wanted to get rid of corrupt management and end overcrowding.
During the last week of the constitutional referendum, around 20,000 tobacco workers struck at the public sector factories belonging to Eastern Company. They won big concessions on wages and benefits, and said that further strikes were possible to force out the company’s director.
Some workers involved in these strikes are already making connections between the battle over the constitution and their own demands. Muhammad Awad, president of the Eastern Company Workers’ Union, spoke to Revolutionary Socialists who visited the picket line. “Workers here reject the constitution”, he said, “as it ignores their rights, prevents them from forming unions, and imposes a centralised union structure by force.”
For Muhammad Hardan, vice president of the Independent Union of Water Company Workers, the link between social and political demands is vital.
“We’ve won a lot of support for our argument that wages must be linked to rising prices. Many workers are angry because they’ve heard that the constitution links wages to production.
“A few days before the new constitutional declaration price rises and taxes were announced, which the IMF is demanding as part of the conditions for the loan. Then the decision was delayed, but we are 100 percent certain that after the referendum prices and taxes will rise.”
The next step will be building a campaign for the parliamentary elections, he added.
“Of course we know there is vote-rigging and the constitution will pass. But we will have had our say and made a stand. We will be able to win a bigger number of seats in the parliamentary elections, by going to the working class areas, among the peasants and the fishermen, to build a strong opposition front.
“We will hopefully be able to resist the attempts of the Brotherhood and their big business allies to pass laws which benefit them.”