The troubled passage of Egypt's post-Mubarak constitution illustrates many of the difficulties facing that country today. After so long in the shadows, the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders are not accustomed to exercising power. The population is split between secular, Western-orientated reformers and those of a more religious and inward-looking persuasion. Political progress has not been matched by improvements in the economy, rather the reverse. With the drop in tourism and economic activity generally, Egypt's leaders cannot afford to buy off jaded voters, even if they wanted to.
The low turnout in the referendum may reflect growing weariness and cynicism among voters for whom casting a ballot was once a novelty. And the fact that the referendum had to be held over two weekends was a direct result of the Brotherhood's inept politics. President Mohamed Morsi's incomprehensible decision to claim vast new powers in the run-up left too few judges willing to officiate.
All that said, however, it would be too pessimistic to dwell only on Egypt's chequered course of recent months. It is less than two years since Hosni Mubarak was forced from office by the popular revolt centred on Tahrir Square. The army, despite periodic concern that it might be tempted to seize back the power it once enjoyed, has not done so. Voters have been registered and elections held approximately on schedule, and the electoral flaws have not been such as to discredit the whole process. Something like real politics is evolving.
While the opposition harbours reasonable misgivings about the new constitution, fearing insufficient safeguards for the rights of women and religious minorities, Mr Morsi is also right to insist that the next stage of Egypt's democratic development – parliamentary elections – should proceed as planned. It is in all Egyptians' interests that the two-month timetable is kept, that the new parliament reflects the true spread of opinion, and that it becomes a forum for the conflicts currently played out, dangerously and chaotically, on the streets. If all that can be managed, Egypt's revolutionary transition may yet succeed.Reuse content