Middle East

Egypt opposition faces reality of rising Islamist power

Officials count ballots after polls closed during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt"s new constitution (22 December 2012)
Image caption A positive vote for the new constitution would be another sign of how organised and effective the Islamist movement is in the political process

It is difficult to view the results of the referendum on the draft constitution without putting them in the context of the growing influence of Islamists in politics here in Egypt.

Many of those who went out to vote did not just give their backing or voice their objection to the constitution, but also to President Mohammed Morsi and his group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamist movement and the president have put their weight behind this charter, rallying their supporters to back it.

Statements from the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and Essam El Erian, acting chairman of the group's Freedom and Justice Party, have shown confidence that the vote will go their way.

If indeed the constitution passes, it is another sign of how organised and effective Islamists are in the political process.

There's a lot at stake here.

This document determines Egypt's future and the relationship between Egyptians and the presidency among the other main institutions.

'Deeply polarised'

But the opposition says that, as it stands, the constitution is determining the future of the country on Islamists' terms.

The main argument for opposing the constitution is that it was written by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.

Many here tell you that this constitution was written "by the Brotherhood for the Brotherhood" and not the rest of Egypt.

Some of the main issues opponents of the draft constitution have are the presidential versus parliamentary powers.

Another point of contention is the role of Sharia and how it will affect social and personal freedoms and minority rights, specifically Egypt's Coptic Christian population.

But those who back it see it as a way to move Egypt towards stability.

The opposition, lead by the National Salvation Front coalition, now has to decide what the next move is going to be: whether to call for more protests, take to the courts and ask for an annulment of the charter, or sit down with president Morsi and his government to come up with an agreement.

Image caption Prior to the vote, the opposition vowed to reject the draft constitution and fight for it to be scrapped

Two days before voting started on 15 December, opposition leaders had announced that whatever the outcome of the referendum, they were adamant about refusing the constitution.

They also said in the same press conference that they will do all they can to see it scrapped.

Whatever they decide to do, they will be dealing with a political reality and will have to catch up with events.

If the constitution passes, parliamentary elections will be held two months after the results.

If the last elections are any indication, Islamists will very likely do well in them.

This constitution has managed to deeply polarise the country, and it's hard to see this division going away anytime soon, no matter what the result is.