The two-round Egyptian referendum on a new constitution was completed Saturday and passed, another two steps forward and one step back in the country's Arab Spring democratization process.
The Egyptian electoral commission announced that some 63.8 percent of the voters approved the constitution, close to two out of three. On the negative side, only 33 percent of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters turned out.
Roughly speaking, the approval of the constitution 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 had played a large role in writing the constitution, to the extent that representatives of the other elements earlier involved in the drafting of it walked out, a major loss in the creation of a consensus document.
On the other hand, the Brotherhood did, in fact, win the elections with 70 percent of the vote, and some 90 percent of Egyptians are Muslims. Any constitution, as Americans know well, is, in fact, what it becomes as it is implemented over the years.
The next test of what direction Egypt is actually going will be parliamentary elections, to be held within two months. It will be interesting to see who is chosen. The low turnout for the referendum on the constitution may indicate that Egyptians have election fatigue after two years of the Arab Spring. Too many of them staying home and/or too many of them in the streets throwing stones do not augur well for the future of Mr. Morsi's presidency or for democratization.
The other risk is that a continuation of the disorder in the streets of Cairo that preceded the referendum provides an opening for a return to military rule in Egypt, in place from 1953 to earlier this year.
What happens remains important to the United States, both in terms of preserving peace in the Middle East and in achieving agreement on the division of land between neighboring Israel and the Palestinians across the border from Egypt.