Night Watch

South Korea-North Korea: Update. South Korean technicians have been studying the debris of the North Korean rocket launched this month. They claim they have found evidence pointing to the rocket's military purposes and the North's technological ties with Iran. The technicians judge this is a joint effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, South Korean officials said Sunday.

Syria: Update. Residents of Aleppo in northern Syria have reported that rebel forces have established a Saudi-style religious police around the outskirts of Aleppo. They also report at least one high-ranking member of the Saudi vice and virtue police was seen in a video.

The rebels insist the religious police are aimed at "fighting crime." The locals say that mostly they are forcing people to pray and stopping women from driving cars.

Secular rebel factions insisted that the entire story was "made up" by the regime to discredit the rebellion, but Islamist factions endorsed the move, saying that a virtue-and-vice squad is "part-and-parcel of the freedom revolution." Moreover, since Sunnis are a majority in Syria they have a right to impose such rules on society.

Comment: This is the first news story about this development that NightWatch has detected, but it parallels what happened in northern Mali after jihadists took over. It is consistent with the theology of the most successful fighting groups in Syria.

The presence of a high-ranking Saudi among the Aleppo rebels is not confirmed, though it is believable. Most rebel groups have no concept of government, so a Saudi advisor might be useful to strict interpreters of the Quran.

More disturbing is the apparent winner-take-all attitude towards government. The statements attributed to Islamists expose a simplistic and literal notion of majority rule. It is not remotely government of the people in any western sense, or as tolerant of non-believers as some Muslim rulers were.

Egypt: Saturday was the second day of voting on the new, more Islamist constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood said an unofficial tally showed 64 percent of voters backed the charter. The Brothers admitted that only a third of voters turned out.

This round was held in the17 more rural governates of Egypt, while last Saturday's round was held in the 10 more populated governates.

The opposition claimed it noted a sharp disparity in the results between the first and second round. In the first round on 15 December, which covered 10 governorates including Cairo, 54 percent of the voters approved the constitution. In the second round, on 22 December, 72 percent approved the constitution.

The referendum committee may not declare official results for the two rounds until Monday, after hearing appeals. If the outcome is confirmed, a parliamentary election will follow in about two months.

Comment: In a country of 82 million people, 25 million are registered voters. Only 33 percent voted in the first round and 31 percent voted in the second round. Thus, 16.5 million voters declined to vote. That means some 8.5 million voters decided the fate of Egypt.

The informal results show that just fewer than 5.5 million people made the decision for 82 million Egyptians that Egypt will be a more devout Islamist state, governed by Sharia. They overwhelmingly abandoned the last 60 years of Egyptian political history and US involvement in Egypt.

With such a low voter turnout, the referendum can hardly be considered an accurate measure of what Egyptians want. By far the vast majority of Egyptian voters voted for no change by boycotting the referendum.

Nevertheless, the approval of the constitution by less than 22 percent of the registered voters ushers in the beginning of revolutionary -meaning systemic and fundamental - change. Until now, the old system of strong man, secular political rule continued.

Now, the old political order is overthrown, replaced with a constitutional arrangement that is partly new and entirely dominated by Islamist ideas. However it will be harder and will probably take decades for the Islamists to change the economic order, which heavily involves the Army-run businesses.

The Army is powerful -- economically, politically and socially. It is the most powerful institution in Egypt and remains able to overthrow the government. Mursi does not politically control the Army now, but it is almost certainly the next target of the Brotherhood.

The lesson from the Egyptian referendum is how few voters it takes to steer a populous country in a new direction that does not represent the views of the majority of the population vice the majority of the voters. In its largest implication, the constitutional referendum ratified Mursi as a dictator, if he wishes to be, and made Egypt an Islamist state, even though most Egyptians did not vote.

End of NightWatch for 23 December.

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