Egypt Independent

Beheira ‘yes’ vote reflects support for Islamist powers

Initial results show that around 80 percent of voters in Beheira approved of the draft constitution put to a referendum last weekend, and it’s no surprise — the Islamist current has the support of a majority in the Delta governorate.

Ordinary citizens said they voted in favor of the constitution for the sake of stability and to keep non-Islamist currents in check. “No” voters said they distrusted the Brotherhood, the Islamist current and wanted a constitution that reflects their ambitions.

Beheira residents headed to the ballot boxes along with 16 other governorates on Saturday in the second phase of the referendum on the divisive draft constitution, which early results show has won approval. Home to the second largest population in round two governorates after Giza, Beheira has 3,341,241 voters, or 13 percent of all eligible voters in the second phase.

The process through which the constitution was drafted and put up for public vote has polarized Egyptians, with political forces campaigning in favor of the draft billing a "yes" vote as one for Sharia, legitimacy and stability. Supporters are touting the charter as the best in the nation's history.

Opponents meanwhile have stressed that their objections are not to Sharia, but to President Mohamed Morsy's power grabs and to an unrepresentative constitution drawn up by an Islamist-dominated assembly, riddled with vague wording and weak safeguarding of rights and freedoms.

Official referendum results are expected Tuesday, but the preliminary count showed a low turnout of around 30 percent with 64 percent voting in favor of the draft

The majority “yes” vote in Beheira is not exclusively motivated by a belief in the quality of the draft, but also prompted by diverse factors related to the nature of the governorate.

"Beheira is a perfect example of the depths of the Egyptian society and its margins, with its industrial and commercial centers marginalized, it currently has a broad rural sector that does not welcome secular currents, either to the left or right,” Mohamed al-Araby, a political affairs researcher at the Future Studies Unit of Bibliotheca Alexandrina and a Beheira resident, tells Egypt Independent.

Araby adds that the rural sector is inclined toward the stability vote, while urban areas are more divided.

Beheria’s demographic pattern of political orientations is emblematic of many agricultural governorates. The secular powers that oppose the constitution have failed to reach out to these rural depths, Araby says, where residents are skeptical of secular forces due to the popularity of Islamist groups.

“The state is absent in these areas and that is why they are considered margins,” he adds. The void that exists is filled by organized Islamist groups prevalent in the area.

In the industrial city of Kafr al-Dawar, the streets are peppered with posters promoting the constitution. Residents are bombarded with signs reading, “Yes to the protection of legitimacy and Sharia.”

However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi Nour Party were cautious not to use the words "Sharia" or "religion" to avoid criticism. Instead, their posters read: “Yes to stability and building.” Still, their sentiments were made obvious by the statements of their members.

Entire villages, such as Nekheila and areas like Hosh Eissa are Salafi strongholds due to their tribal nature and proximity to the west of Alexandria where Salafis are potent.

Referendum monitors in the area reported numerous violations during the electoral process.

Members at the committee supervising the polls told state news agency MENA on Monday that they are still reviewing complaints and challenges concerning the electoral process. Media and watchdog groups have reported that voting was marred by delays and irregularities, including an insufficient number of judges to supervise polling stations.

Khalaf Bayoumy, the head of the Shehab Center for Human Rights and a monitor in Beheira, said the voting process was chaotic.

Campaigning continued outside polling stations on referendum day, and several voting centers reportedly opened late due to unstamped ballots. In other polling stations where there were no stamps, the overseeing official signed ballots instead.

Voters in the area said they could not find the voters’ lists outside the polling stations, and the process was not facilitated for senior citizens.

Some monitors were also prevented from entering polling stations, and judges often had to oversee more than one ballot box, each with thousands of votes.

The Muslim Brotherhood used the Teachers Syndicate headquarters in Kafr al-Dawar during the referendum, setting up a work station with laptops to direct voters to their stations at the Haditha School.

They also provided transportation in many towns via microbuses bearing Salafi Dawah and FJP logos as well as banners advocating a "yes" vote.

Ballot-like slips of paper marked “yes” were also used to direct illiterate voters, along with the more straightforward approach of campaigners directly telling voters how they should cast their ballots, as seen outside the Garadat School polling station.

There were also some directing voters to vote against the constitution, but the campaign in favor of the draft was more prominent.

This piece was translated from Arabic by Dina Zafer.