Egyptian voters just approved a new constitution in a popular referendum, so it’s safe to say at this point that the country has undergone a regime change. The military government installed by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s “Free Officers Movement” in 1952, which continued in a crippled form for a while after Hosni Mubarak was removed from power, is now finished.
The new constitution was translated into English and published on the Internet. It’s a mixed bag. Some of it is pretty good. Parts are incoherent and far too vague for a legal document. Other sections are toxic, especially Article 2 which says—and all of us knew this was coming—that “Principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.” [Emphasis added.]
The referendum passed by a roughly 2-1 margin, which is more or less the same percentage of people who voted for either the Muslim Brotherhood or the totalitarian Salafists in the last parliamentary election.
ABC News reports that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi “called on the opposition to join a dialogue to heal rifts over the charter.”
There shouldn’t be any serious rifts. Not over a new constitution. It ought to be a consensus document, something liberals and conservatives, Muslims and Christians, and the secular and the religious can all live with.
From the moment when Hosni Mubarak fell from power in February 2011, few issues have proved more divisive in Egyptian politics than the writing of a new constitution. Now, even though the formal process is theoretically coming to an end, the battle over the constitution is drawing the country dangerously close to an all-out civil war. The constituent assembly, Egypt’s constitutional committee, has approved a draft of the document, which will be submitted to a popular referendum, and probably approved, on December 15. Secular forces, however, oppose the constitution — its passage would mark a return to politics as usual in which Islamist parties have the upper hand, liberals remain on the fringes, and authoritarianism could reemerge, this time under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood.
To prevent the approval of the constitution, secularists have taken to the streets in increasingly large demonstrations, denouncing the constitution and President Mohamed Morsi as illegitimate and threatening massive civil disobedience. If Islamist parties mobilized their followers in response, something they have so far refrained from doing on a large scale, violence would be inevitable. A major flare-up could split the security forces and confront the military with a dilemma: either seize power again, as it did after the overthrow of Mubarak, or sit on the sidelines as the country descends into chaos. Neither option is palatable for the generals, since picking a side and intervening in political squabbles could cause a deep rift within the military itself.
Secularists allege that the Islamists who dominated the constituent assembly pushed through a constitution that does not respect liberal values. Their fears were only further stoked by Morsi’s decree that put his edicts above the reach of the courts. In their thinking, only popular protests could save the country from a return to Mubarakism. The Islamists, meanwhile, see themselves as the guardians of the democratic transition. From their point of view, the secularists are mobilizing the institutions of the Mubarak state, particularly the courts, in an attempt to undo the results of democratic elections that the Islamists won. According to this narrative, secularists used politicized courts to engineer the dissolution of the parliament and the first constituent assembly. Morsi, then, was quite justified in trying to protect the second constituent assembly by placing it out of reach of the judiciary.
Mohamed Morsi is trying to consolidate his grip on power in Egypt. The American educated Morsi claims his intention is to shepherd Egypt into the 21st century maintaining the country’s Muslim character while at the same time guaranteeing democratic institutions, equal access for minority populations to those institutions and improving a moribund economy in large part controlled by by the military.
Then there is the matter of Egypt’s influence in the Muslim world. With Shia Iran is momentum which is most influential in the region. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, intimidated by Iran are counting on Egypt to keep that nation in check. They are counting on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood to wave the Sunni flag and stand up to Iran
All this makes liberals in Egypt very nervous. They see Morsi as a new Mubarak- imperial, dictatorial and keeping his Muslim Brotherhood agenda under wraps. This opinion was reinforced by Morsi’s attempt to rewrite the Egyptian Constitution which would give him virtually unlimited power, protection from prosecution and most importantly, implementation of the MB’s Salafist version of sharia law. This is an important distinction. Most Egyptians would approve of sharia elements in their legal systems. However, the Salafist version of sharia (a much more stringent form) is very controversial.
The MB can be brutish and is not beyond buying votes or intimidating their their opponents. They want citizens with less influence and involvement with government, preferring instead the trappings and images of democracy. Hamas for example, is the classic example of what a MB led government looks like.
The Arab Spring heralded a new, tumultuous beginning for Egypt. Of what is not yet clear.
The final draft of Egypt’s proposed new constitution, completed in late November, was produced in such a flurry of political maneuvering, threats, and shrill rhetoric that commentators and citizens alike are still trying to understand its implications. From a liberal democratic perspective, there is much to like in the document, especially compared with the one it is replacing. For example, the drafters not only specified a long list of freedoms, as their predecessors did, but also made the wording more difficult for officials to wiggle around. But the document includes just as much that causes concern. It postpones answering the question of civilian oversight of the military until the next constitution is written, years from now. And there are gaping holes and ambiguities that only politics can fill in.
And that is the critical point so often missed: political context always shapes the meaning of constitutional texts. The Arab world’s experience with apparently democratic constitutional provisions confirms the rule. Democracy has failed in the Arab world not because governments have routinely violated their countries’ highest laws (although they have occasionally cheated) but, rather, because their constitutions’ democratic promises have generally been as vague as possible and were left to parliaments to flesh out through regular statutes. European countries first developed that system to ensure that popularly elected bodies, not kings, would define basic rights. When Arab regimes copied the practice — for example, many of them proclaimed freedom of the press but explained that the freedom would be “defined by law” — the effect was that rulers could pledge all kinds of rights and let rubber-stamp parliaments rob them of all meaning.
It is thus important to view the new Egyptian constitution as a political document — a product of specific circumstances that will not merely shape a future set of circumstances but also function within them.
…Rescinding the decree satisfies a key demand of opposition leaders. But a Dec. 15 referendum on a new constitution, which opposition forces wanted canceled, will go ahead as planned, Awa said.
The compromise was reached at a meeting Saturday that Morsi had billed as a national dialogue but that was boycotted by all but a handful of opposition figures who had earlier said that if the referendum was going ahead, there was nothing to talk about.
It remains unclear whether the new moves will be enough to ease a political crisis that had degenerated in recent days into unprecedented scenes of division, with Morsi’s Islamist backers and his secular and liberal opponents hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails and beating each other bloody with sticks.
Tanks were deployed to the streets around the palace where those clashes took place.
Continued Unrest over Morsy’s end run with the new constitution.
Egypt’s capital boiled Wednesday as protesters supporting and opposing President Mohamed Morsy geared up for demonstrations.
People angered by Morsy continued a sit-in in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after a night marked by violent clashes outside the presidential palace.
Police fired tear gas Tuesday night after protesters broke through barbed wire around the palace building and hurled chairs and rocks at retreating officers. Opposition forces later were calling for a march toward the palace.
After the initial clashes, police withdrew behind fences and the large demonstration was peaceful for several hours. A few dozen protesters and a scattering of tents remained outside the Itihadiya palace Wednesday.
Egyptian police battled thousands of protesters outside President Mohamed Mursi’s palace in Cairo on Tuesday, prompting the Islamist leader to leave the building, presidency sources said.
Officers fired teargas at up to 10,000 demonstrators angered by Mursi’s drive to hold a referendum on a new constitution on December 15. Some broke through police lines around his palace and protested next to the perimeter wall.
The crowds had gathered nearby in what organizers had dubbed “last warning” protests against Mursi, who infuriated opponents with a November 22 decree that expanded his powers. “The people want the downfall of the regime,” the demonstrators chanted.
“The president left the palace,” a presidential source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. A security source at the presidency also said the president had departed.
Mursi ignited a storm of unrest in his bid to prevent a judiciary still packed with appointees of ousted predecessor Hosni Mubarak from derailing a troubled political transition.
Facing the gravest crisis of his six-month-old tenure, the Islamist president has shown no sign of buckling under pressure.
A former aid to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy said that no concession had been reached between Morsy and the country’s judges, despite a meeting Monday that appeared to have resulted in an agreement between the two sides.
“It’s not a compromise - it’s a clarification,” Jihad Haddad told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
Just days after Morsy received international acclaim for helping to broker a truce between Israel and Gaza militants, the Islamist leader has triggered angry demonstrations for an edict, issued Thursday, that effectively allows him to rule the country unchecked by the judicial system, for the next six months, or until a new constitution is finalized.
Haddad insisted that Morsy has tried to compromise with the judiciary, even looking for a “dignified way of promoting [the Prosecutor General] out of office,” but Morsy has been met with opposition from judges who are Mubarak appointees and loyalists.
Fresh from a week in which he was declared the chief beneficiary of Israel’s eight-day war in Gaza, Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi lost no time in turning his replenished guns on foes closer to home. Some of the elements of the decree he issued on Thursday were popular, even among those revolutionary groups who have bitterly opposed him on other issues. Sacking the prosecutor general, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, a Mubarak-era hatchet man whose blatantly tainted actions resulted in cases collapsing against attackers of demonstrators, is one. Offering cash to the victims of military and security forces’ brutality and retrials was another.
But the decision to give all his decisions immunity from appeal up until the time a new constitution is enacted and fresh parliamentary elections are held next year is in a different league. He now wields total power. And therein lies a pyramid-sized contradiction. How can you enact a transition to democracy, instil respect for the rule of law and separate the powers of the judiciary, legislative and executive, by overriding all three? He says he has done it temporarily and unwillingly, when all other options have failed, but the fact remains that he has done it. Thus Transparency International called on Mr Morsi to rethink, arguing that he needs an independent judiciary to fight against corruption and uphold the law.
Egypt has had a tumultuous modern history, marked by dramatic shifts—from colonialism to independence, monarchy to socialism, dictatorship to a new, chaotic but more democratic, system.
Laura E. Bier, an American scholar on a Fulbright fellowship to Egypt, wants to find out how changing patterns in consumer behavior—changes as prosaic as what snacks Egyptians buy at their corner shops—illuminate these historical shifts.
Ms. Bier, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of History, Technology, and Society, is one of six Fulbright scholars in Egypt for the 2012-13 academic year. Several of them plan to study topics related to the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, looking at subjects like political cartoons, the writing of Egypt’s new constitution, and the role of women in politics.
Ms. Bier’s research touches in part on the motivations that drove the hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets to fight for greater political rights and “a respectable, dignified life.” They defined that life, she says, largely in economic terms, as their ability to provide certain basic consumer products for their homes and for their children.
A cartoon recently published in an Egyptian daily shows an elderly bridegroom dragging by the hand a little girl in bridal garb clutching a teddy bear. “Okay,” he sighs, “I’ll take you to the amusement park but only after we’ve consummated our marriage.”
The joke, which is doing the rounds on Facebook, is part of an explosion of outrage in liberal circles provoked by Mohamed Saad al-Azhari, an ultraconservative Salafi cleric on the panel drafting Egypt’s new constitution. Along with some others on the panel, he wants to abolish laws setting 18 as the minimum age of marriage for girls.
Mr Azhari, who vehemently denies accusations that he advocates child marriage, also wants to remove a proposed clause banning the trafficking of women. He said he was concerned it would be used to prosecute parents who marry off their underage daughters. The text now under consideration by the panel only bans slavery and the sex trade.
To the dismay of rights activists, the Islamists who dominate the constitutional panel have also made it clear they favour diluting - or even withdrawing - Egypt’s commitment to international conventions upholding the rights of children and banning discrimination against women. Their argument is that provisions in the agreements breach Islamic law.