Hesitancy is nothing new for Egypt's opposition, which has lacked a killer instinct and effective command structure from the beginning, said Robert Becker, a Cairo-based political consultant who advised Egyptian parties for the National Democratic Institute. (Becker and dozens of employees of NDI and other civil-society groups are currently on trial for their work.)
"Statistically it's there, but to win this [referendum] they need message and organization," he said. "Organically, it's happening, but it's not because of the direction of any of these liberal parties."
Unofficial results show that the Dec. 15 poll had perhaps the lowest turnout of any vote since the revolution. Earlier mobilization could have made the difference in getting more "no" voters to the polls.
The NSF's "no" campaign team received the results of two opinion polls on Dec. 13 and 14, too late to be of use. The polls, each involving phone or personal interviews with around 1,200 mostly male subjects across the country, showed roughly 30 percent of those surveyed remained undecided.
"This [vote] can go anywhere based on our polling in the first 10 governorates," the team member said.
The opposition's hard line -- no negotiations and continued protests -- was intended to give them political leverage, but when the decision finally came to get out the "no" vote, "It was too late ... to increase the effectiveness of the marketing campaign."
Egypt's opposition leaders may be facing an existential moment: If they can't exploit cracks within the Muslim Brotherhood's dominance now, after the Islamist organization has stumbled so publicly, they risk being marginalized in another Islamist parliament -- one that is unlikely to be dissolved like its predecessor. But the political diversity that makes the opposition a formidable Brotherhood foe also hinders its ability to coordinate.
Egypt's new opposition not only contains longtime revolutionaries, but also those who supported Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and Morsy's foe in the presidential election, as well as others with ties to the former regime. Some inside the coalition are uneasy with their new friends -- not only Shafiq, who is persona non grata, but also figures like Mubarak's former foreign minister, Amr Moussa.
"I refuse Moussa," said Mamdouh Salah, a 32-year-old civil engineer and chief of the Social Democrats' street campaign in Mahalla. The industrial city of some half a million people in the Delta is known for its restive labor movement, and the governorate as a whole joined Cairo in voting against the constitution.
On the wall of the third-floor office, just above a women's beauty salon, nobody had removed a sticker showing Moussa's face next to those of Shafiq and feared former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. A relic of the May presidential campaign, it stated "they can't rule," and below, "we're not going to vote for the old system or their supporters."
Salah said he wouldn't blame the Salvation Front's leadership for working with the "remnants" of Mubarak's regime and that he would try to win over voters of all factions, but he said that they would not be his political partners.
"Here in Mahalla, we have a revolutionary perspective," he said.
For him, the battle for the referendum was far from the main event -- his goal was nothing less than to defeat by almost any means a Brotherhood regime that he believed had committed the same sins as Mubarak.
"Voting up or down won't solve the problem from its roots," he said. "Egypt is not a stable country."