“This is our constitution
“Egypt is the gift of the Nile to Egyptians, and the gift of Egyptians to humanity.
“It is the heart of the world, by virtue of the originality of its location and history. It is the meeting point of cultures and civilisations. It is where Africa heads into the Mediterranean, and where the Nile flows to its mouth.
“This is Egypt, a timeless homeland for Egyptians; and a note of peace and love to all people.”
So begins the Preamble to Egypt’s draft constitution.
An Egyptian American wrote to Watani: “The splendour of the language of the Preamble has warmed my heart. We should be proud of ourselves, wipe our tears, stop beating our chests and move on to confidently meet the ever-young new Egypt waiting to embrace us all again.”
Labour of love
The majesty and emotion of the Preamble indicate just how much loving labour went into the drafting of a constitution for Egypt. For some four months, the Committee of the Fifty laboured and agonised over every word and clause to produce a charter fit for an Egypt that on 30 June 2013 rose in its millions to throw off an oppressive, Islamist regime.
The draft was completed by consensus on Sunday 1 December. Many of the Committee members broke into emotional tears as they stood for a group photo with the Committee president Amr Moussa. It was a historic moment that crowned their faithful endeavour and expressed the aspirations of Egyptians across their various ethnicities, colour, gender, religion, or social standing. The ‘Fifty’ themselves had been chosen by members of the various sectors across the board of the entire Egyptian community to represent them in the final drafting of the constitution proposed by a panel of 10 legal and constitutional experts.
The final draft was handed over to President Adly Mansour last Tuesday 3 December, and will be put to the vote by year-end.
Proud of freedoms and rights
The question which begs an answer, however, is just how much Egyptians are expected to endorse the charter crafted so carefully and laboriously by a handpicked panel.
Anba Pola who represented the Coptic Orthodox Church said that a sense of belonging to Egypt obliged him and others to reach a consensus over the new constitution. “Love for this country urged us to do this,” he said. He stressed that the charter draft grants Christians and Jews the right to perform their religious rites freely and to choose their spiritual leaders, and obligates the coming parliament to issue a law regulating the building and restoration of churches. It also stipulates that Copts, women and persons with special needs should be adequately represented in parliament.
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, Chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, expressed his happiness to the Cairo daily Al-Ahram that for the first time, the Egyptian constitution defines Egypt as a civil State. “I am proud to say that the chapter on freedoms and rights is much better than in free countries like France and Italy,” he said.
A proud Azza al-Ashmawi, Secretary-General of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood and member of the Committee of the Fifty, said that a simplified copy of the constitution is being compiled to address children to explain to them the articles that tackle the rights of the child in the draft constitution. Eight articles tackle childhood, motherhood, health, sports, gifted children, and battle human trafficking.
MB boycott or vote ‘no’
For his part, Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour who represented the Salafi Nour Party, expressed content that the constitution maintained the principles of Islamic sharia.
The grassroots Tamarud (Rebel) movement which had rallied for the overthrow of the Islamist regime vowed to rally support for the new constitution.
Predictably the Muslim Brothers (MB) and other related Islamist movements who insist that the overthrow of the MB was through a military coup and was thus illegal were not happy. One of their young members, Islam Faris, told the press they intended to rally to defeat the constitution. It was not clear, however, if they intended to rally for a ‘no’ vote for the draft constitution or a boycott of the vote.
Revolutionist youth object
Mokhtar Ghobashi, Deputy Director of the Arabic Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), told Watani that a ‘yes’ vote for the constitution would be the epitome of the Egyptian unity manifested so strongly in the 30 June Revolution. A ‘no’ vote, Dr Ghobashi says, would effectively throw to the wind the achievement of 30 June. The referendum, he reminds, will be over the full 247 articles; no-one can approve some articles or disapprove others.
“Some revolutionist youth object to articles in the constitution such as the trial of civilians before military courts [only in specific cases] and the lack of an explicitly-defined quota for women, youth and Copts. But Dr Ghobashi believes that the people instinctively realise that opposing this new constitution means taking Egypt to a deadlock.
He says that a recent chance meeting with a number of young men from the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party revealed that they harboured extreme anger at the recent Protest Law and the constitutional article that allows the trial of civilians before military courts. “When I asked how they would vote in the referendum, they said that they hadn’t made up their minds. When I explicitly asked whether their opposition to the Protest Law and a number of constitutional texts would lead them to ally with the Islamists and the MB in a ‘no’ vote, they again had no clear answer. These young men must understand that voting ‘no’ to the constitution reduces all the efforts of the revolution to zero.”
Dr Ghobashi says this was not the time for the Protest Law. It is a mistake, he says, that only serves the purpose of the MB. It might have been tolerated had the government been successful at fixing the economy, but this is not the case.
The silent majority
According to Dr Ghobashi, it is difficult to predict the result of the referendum. He can only hope that during the coming days the government, political parties and the media can persuade the majority to vote ‘yes’. In his opinion, the decisive factor will not be the intellectuals or the elite but the average ‘silent majority’.
In agreement with this opinion is the member of the Committee of the Fifty Ahmed Fouad Anwar, Professor of Hebrew at Alexandria University and coordinator of the Floating Voters, Conscience and Awareness coalition. When asked about the term “floating voters”, Dr Anwar explained that it is an international term which describes a majority of voters with no allegiance to a particular political party but whose votes can determine the outcome of elections. “Our role is to educate these voters, pure and unspoilt by elections tactics, that their votes can influence the vote in a major way,” he said. “The participation of these voters can protect against the danger of the Islamist manipulation of the elections in their favour. The coalition includes 7500 political activists who volunteer to conduct community awareness. We don’t accept donations or financial support, but may ask official authorities to loan us facilities to conduct awareness campaigns.”
Dr Anwar believes the public tends to vote ‘yes’ for the constitution and says the chaos and protest the MB are waging on the street is not worth much. “Their year in power has isolated them politically; now they are isolating themselves socially. The violent minority we see on the street does not represent the majority of youth,” he says.
Security expert Ihab Youssef, Secretary-General of People and Police for Egypt Association, regrets that several sectors have objections to the draft constitution. “Hopes had been high,” Dr Youssef says, “that no less than 70 per cent would vote ‘yes’ for the draft constitution, but now it appears that a ‘yes’ vote would barely be 50 per cent.”
What if the people vote ‘no’ for the draft constitution? All experts agree that the constitution, just like any other man-made document, may be amended. Mr Moussa has said that the interim President would issue a constitutional declaration to form a new constituent assembly to amend the 2012 Constitution. Political analysts are unanimous that the Constitution of 2012 cannot by any means be re-adopted because it was tailored to serve the purpose of the Islamists to the detriment of all others.
Professor of Constitutional Law and former governor of Damietta Tarek Khedr sees that despite objections the constitution will be passed. “It is perfectly normal that some should accept and others oppose,” he says. “But in the end, the door is open for future amendments and enhancements.”
According to the journalist and writer Mohamed Mostafa Sherdy, the violent Islamist protests and attempts at chaos are nothing but a scenario worked by the MB to tell the world that the political scene in Egypt is a big mess. “They think their actions will force the government to negotiate with them on their own terms; they can’t see that their violence is backfiring.”
Sherdy insists the constitution will pass and Egypt will never go back to the 2012 Islamist constitution, no matter how much the MB try. “It is normal for any man-made constitution to be subject to debates and differences because after all, perfection belongs to God alone.”
4 December 2013