Sacrificing Math and Facts at the Mursi Altar
Cairo – Following the results of the first round of the constitutional referendum, activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was busy dispelling false historical allegations aimed at selling Egypt’s low turnout and approval rates as internationally acceptable.
The French constitution, continuously cited by Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, featured over 80 percent turnout, not 63 as claimed, Abdel-Fattah said. This explains how this table misleads by mixing the approval percentage of the entire population with approval percentage among actual voters. It ignores historical context, and turns a blind eye to requirements of at least 50 percent turnout in referenda.
Abdel-Fattah once said logic is usually the first casualty in Egypt. As we learned in the past two weeks, allow me to add math too.
The first round of the constitutional referendum featured a 57 percent approval rate and a roughly 30 percent turnout rate. In the second round, where the approval rate increased to 71 percent – making the final result 63.8 percent in favor of the constitution – also ended with low turnout rate: 32.9 percent. Analysts, mainly on the opposition camp, argued that this means that less than 20 percent of eligible voters approve of the constitution while the majority has opted not to vote.
Between the two stages of the vote, the rhetoric adopted by the Islamist supporters changed from justifying low approval rates to selling low turnout rates and falsely claiming an increase in President Mohamed Mursi’s popularity.
This table compares the Yes and No percentages in the referendum with Mursi-Ahmed Shafiq votes in the second round of the presidential election in June.
It’s partly based on some opposition campaigns that sold the No vote as a ballot against the MB and Mursi. The referendum became a vote on Mursi’s popularity. Based on Islamists’ discourse now, this comparison also tries to prove that the revolutionary camp that sided with Mursi against Shafiq in the second round of the presidential election – raising his votes from 5 million in the first round to 13 million in the second -- was lying and that Mursi won solely through the support of the Islamists.
Basic math is sacrificed at the altar for the sake of political gains.
Mursi supporters claim that based on the referendum results, his popularity increased from 51 percent in the presidential election to 64 percent this month. Leading MB member Essam El-Erian said it meant a 12 percent increase in Mursi’s popularity. The claim only holds as long as people don’t check the numbers corresponding to these percentages.
In June, the 51 percent represented 13 million votes. In December this 63.8 percent represented 10.69 million votes. In fact, Mursi’s popularity plummeted, losing 2.5 million voters in a few months.
There was a failure on both sides to merely encourage voters to participate. This growing apathy and lack of interest, or faith, in the process is a dangerous development that has to be dealt with by all political factions, not just the ruling Islamists.
Yet there are efforts to either downplay the drop in voter turnout or deny it altogether.
Essam El-Haddad, assistant to the president on Foreign Relations, noted in a 22 December 2012 statement the “unprecedented participation rates” as signs of Egypt’s progress after the revolution. Other points listed suggest that these could be labeled as Mursi’s achievements.
It wasn’t the only false claim in that statement, according to rights activists. Ironically, the only vote under Mursi’s rule so far has featured the lowest participation rates since the elections of the Upper House of Parliament earlier this year, roughly a 19 percent decrease in turnout from the election that put Mursi in office.
To put it in numbers: 26 million people voted in the presidential election, 13 million of whom chose Mursi, while only 17 million participated in the referendum, 10.69 of which chose the Mursi-backed charter.
The latest installment of math mockery is a pie chart breaking down the results of the US presidential election. The chart, currently circulating on social media networks, lacks any backing numbers and solely relies on visuals.
It doesn’t recognize the incomparable nature of the two cases. The impact of elections lasts for only a few years, while constitutions need more consensus in order to function as a governing charter for a much longer period. The chart’s numbers are also inaccurate. It shows that voter turnout was less than half, while in fact it was 59 percent – almost double the turnout percentage of Egypt’s referendum.
I’d like to say Nate Silver would be disappointed, but really it’s grade school teachers who would suffer the most.