Going the Wrong Way: Muhammad Morsi must accommodate the secular opposition; if necessary, the West should push him
IT LOOKS pretty certain that the constitution which Muhammad Morsi, Egypt’s president, has presented to the people will win their endorsement in a referendum that is being held in two stages (see article). On December 15th a majority of voters in the ten provinces polled said yes, though 57% of Cairo’s 6m voters said no. On December 22nd the remaining voters, who are likely to be more conservative, will probably grant their approval, too. Mr Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party may conclude they have a mandate to guide Egypt in an Islamist direction, away from more open, permissive ways.
They would be wrong to do so. This line of thinking threatens to plunge Egypt into a protracted period of impoverishing instability, which in the end will hurt Islamists as much as everyone else. The more pragmatic Islamists, perhaps including Mr Morsi, should change course while they still have time.
Even if the constitution gets popular approval, it will not have a ringing endorsement. Less than one-third of eligible voters are reckoned to have turned out in the first round of the referendum, and the margin of assent has been slim. Coptic Christians, who make up about a tenth of Egypt’s 85m people, are unnerved by the document’s Islamist flavour, as are many Egyptians with secular, liberal or left-wing views. And despite the referendum results, the Brothers may be losing favour. Since winning a clear plurality in a general election nearly a year ago, their popularity has been dipping