Democracy International (DI) organized a comprehensive international observation mission for the constitutional referendum in Egypt on January 14 and 15, 2014. Although the actual administration of the process on the referendum days appeared to allow those citizens who participated to express their will, DI concluded that the restrictive political climate in Egypt impaired the referendum process. The referendum took place against a backdrop of arrests and detention of dissenting voices. There was no real opportunity for those opposed to the government’s “roadmap” or the proposed constitution to dissent. This constrained campaign environment made a robust debate on the substance and merits of the constitution impossible.
EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton announced today that the EU would be observing the presidential election scheduled for May 26-27. See the Project on Middle East Democracy Egypt Daily Digest. This may make it more difficult for any decision not to mount a full American observation under USAID, but it strikes me as premature to commit to observing without seeing some progress on the types of concerns that are identified in the Democracy International report on the campaign environment back in January. The ability to “witness” on the ground and report accurately on the environment has value but in a presidential election under the circumstances there is risk of being seen as inadvertently giving legitimacy if there is not a bona fide effort by the existing authorities to allow a real competition.