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Published: Saturday, 12/29/2012

Egypt decides

Egypt’s vote on a new constitution represents another two steps forward and one step back in the country’s Arab Spring democratization process.

Nearly two-thirds of Egyptians who took part in the referendum that ended over the weekend voted to approve the constitution. But only one-third of eligible voters turned out.

The constitution’s approval was a victory for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, led by President Mohammed Morsi, and something of a defeat for women, Egypt’s secularists, and its Coptic Christians and other religious minorities. The Brotherhood played a large role in writing the constitution, to the extent that representatives of other interests walked out on the drafting process.

Yet the Brotherhood did win national elections with 70 percent of the vote, and some 90 percent of Egyptians are Muslims. Any constitution, as Americans know, is what it becomes as it is carried out over the years.

The next test of Egypt’s future direction will be parliamentary elections to be held within two months. The low turnout for the referendum on the constitution may indicate that Egyptians are tired of voting after two years of the Arab Spring.

Too many Egyptians staying home, and too many others in the streets throwing stones, do not augur well for the future of Mr. Morsi’s presidency or the country’s democratization. A continuation of the disorder in Cairo streets that preceded the referendum could offer a pretext for a return to military rule in Egypt, which prevailed from 1953 until this year.

What happens in Egypt is important to the United States, both to preserve peace in the Middle East and to achieve agreement on the division of land between Israel and Palestinians across the border from Egypt. Promoting democracy in Egypt should remain a priority for the Obama Administration.

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