Egypt votes, so the real work can begin

Egypt has approved a new constitution despite a boycott by groups aligned with Mohammed Morsi, giving legitimacy to the nation's direction towards stability and security.

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For all the talk of a boycott, the passing of the latest version of Egypt's constitution with an even greater turnout by voters than the previous, Islamist-leaning version, unerringly confers legitimacy on the direction the country is taking. The most telling statistic is that 38.6 per cent of eligible voters took part, compared to 33 per cent in the previous constitutional referendum in December 2012.

Given the vow by groups aligned to deposed president Mohammed Morsi not to take part, the approval of the constitution was never in doubt, although few would have predicted the vote would be as emphatic as 98.1 per cent. International observers who monitored the voting declared it to be mostly free and fair, with the irregularities restricted to campaigning outside the voting stations but not fraud or vote rigging.

It would, however, be oversimplifying matters to see this poll as a direct endorsement of the military's decision to depose Mr Morsi a quarter of the way through his four-year term. This is as much a vote in favour of stability and certainty after three difficult and tempestuous years since the 17-day uprising that led to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

In this process, Egypt’s voters have learnt a lesson that their counterparts in more mature democracies already know: voting is just the first step on the path towards making their situations better and is not a panacea. Voting in a new constitution or even electing a government will not suddenly turn the creaking economy of Egypt into a new Dubai.

This dramatic lowering of expectations is no bad thing, even if it is a painful realignment compared to the heady and optimistic days immediately after people power led to the departure of Mr Mubarak. Egypt faces significant economic problems to do with productivity, corruption and inefficiency that are not magically solved by overturning a dictator, even if it does end the particular cycle of patronage that surrounded Mr Mubarak, his wider family and their cronies.

The work to deal with those problems will begin in earnest when a new president and a new parliament are elected. As Egyptians have already learnt over the past three years, the process will often be slow, messy and frustrating – but this is the only way in which a new Egypt can emerge and the sacrifices of all those who fought against dictatorship will be repaid by creating a land of genuine opportunity.