For three consecutive weeks, the Egyptian opposition has called mass protests against a controversial draft constitution that Egyptians are being asked to vote on beginning Saturday.
At each rally, protesters chanted against the document and its key proponents: The Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi, who was among the group’s leaders before he was elected Egypt’s president.
But the opposition appears to be losing momentum, while the Islamists still appear to be going strong.
The Brotherhood’s approach to the campaign has been to place colorful pamphlets in mailboxes, urging people to vote “yes” on the draft they say is the way forward for Egypt.
The pamphlet read: “A ‘yes’ vote means things will settle down and the wheel of production will start turning again.”
That message is one that many predict will propel the draft constitution to victory. The economy has been crippled by the lack of foreign investment and tourists as well as repeated labor strikes, and many Egyptians are first and foremost concerned about finding work and restoring stability.
Those worries are ones the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have learned to work to their advantage. They have campaigned in impoverished neighborhoods, laying out plans for a better future, while handing out free food and supplies.
Their opponents, meanwhile, have focused on messages conveyed over the Internet and the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Islamists Take Advantage Of Organizational Skills
Just a couple years ago, neither side could effectively practice politics. For more than 30 years under Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian opposition parties were dubbed as “cartoon parties” ineffectual at bringing change.
Then came the revolution at the beginning of 2011 and Mubarak’s regime was ousted. And the opposition — including the Brotherhood — for the first time, experienced real freedom to help craft a new Egypt.
But the Islamists, who had been able to organize in the mosques, even if their political role was limited, had a head start. And so far, the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have been the big winners. They won the majority in both houses of parliament and Morsi became the new president.
In the battle over a draft constitution, critics say the document bolsters Islamist power and fails to represent all segments of society.
And as the campaign shaped up, it seemed that the opposition might have learned from its recent defeats to the Islamists.
Former presidential candidates and parties with political ideologies ranging from the far right to the far left joined together to create a “National Salvation Front.” They shared a common goal of postponing the referendum on the constitution, saying it needed more work to fully represent all Egyptians.
But the opposition quickly reverted to old tactics that have seemingly fallen flat this time.
“They never act, they always react,” my mother told me as she watched opposition leaders at a recent press conference delivering statements and answering questions on the TV.
A friend, Sarah el Masry, complains that even as the referendum draws near, the opposition has “not even stated what their plan is.”
She says she wanted to hand out “Vote No” stickers in Cairo Metro stations, but was not even sure if the opposition was planning to ask its supporters to vote no or to boycott the referendum all together.
My mom and my friend are not the only ones who are frustrated with the lack of organization and direction of the opposition. Fewer than 2,000 turned out for the latest opposition protest on Tuesday night. That’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in previous weeks.
Those who did turn out Tuesday near the presidential palace seemed more interested in ordering lattes at a packed coffee shop than protesting.
The man dubbed as “the Godfather of the Revolution” — Nobel Laureate Mohamed El Baradei — has not been widely visible and was not present on this night.
He had tweeted earlier that day: “We have broken the wall of fear.”
At the same time, members of the Salafist Noor Party were out in force delivering their own message. These ultra-conservative Islamists who are Brotherhood allies on the constitutional question busily campaigned across rural Egypt and urged voters to cast ballots for the sake of “stability.”
In its latest statement, the National Salvation Front said that its real battle would start right after the referendum.
Dina Salah ElDin, an Egyptian citizen, works in NPR’s Cairo bureau.