Putting the Constitution into action

17-01-2014 12:07 PM

Youssef Sidhom

Egyptians have passed the test with flying colours. Last week saw them head to the polling stations in joyful droves and queue, in many cases for more than an hour, to vote for a new Constitution. Watani International goes to press as we await the official announcement of the referendum results,

 but reports by local and international monitoring organisations indicate an overwhelming approval of the Constitution. The voter turnout is as yet the highest in any Egyptian elections during the last few decades and definitely exceeds the turnout during the vote on the Islamist Constitution of 2012. If anything, this reflects a historic proactive involvement by Egyptians in re-forming their country. It shows their resolve to implement the Roadmap for Egypt’s future drawn by the armed forces, the various political movements and sectors of the community, as well as the Church and al-Azhar, in the wake of the massive 30 June Revolution which led to the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime. 
Egyptians threw to the wind the ominous threats by the MB to sabotage the vote, and refused to give in to the Islamist terrorism that aims to undermine Egypt. They realised that terrorism can only be wiped out by moving ahead on the road to reform, the first step on which was to endorse the Constitution in order to establish a legislative foundation for the nation. This realisation produced a more than 96 per cent ‘Yes’ vote for the Constitution.
Egypt now moves on to the second phase of the Roadmap, which, as demanded by most political forces, will probably be presidential elections to be followed by parliamentary elections. The original plan had been for parliamentary elections to come first, but now there is a near consensus that electing the president, no matter how many candidates run for the post, is less complicated than parliamentary elections which involve raging competition between thousands of candidates who represent varying political views and parties. It is not unusual for the fierce competition to turn into heated conflict, a situation which the current turmoil in Egypt may render intolerable. Almost everyone believes that a solid Constitution and an elected president have the potential of securing sufficient stability to ensure safe parliamentary elections. An added value is that later parliamentary elections affords the various political movements and parties time to organise their ranks and coordinate efforts before embarking on the competition. The new Constitution did not specify whether the parliamentary electoral system would be an individual or slate system or a mix of both; legislation is needed to determine that. We are also standing in wait to see how the numerous political parties that lack electoral weight each on its own would merge or form coalitions to contest the elections through single candidates that would stand better chances at winning, and avoid fragmenting the vote. A comfortable majority would then be achieved in parliament to secure legislative reform and implement the new Constitution.
No matter how delighted Egyptians are with their new Constitution and the achievement they realised by seeing it through, they must be aware that the Constitution on its own, without the legislation and laws to translate its principles into real life rules, remains a mere historical document that spells out the principles and values the people agreed to base their nation upon.  The real life fulfilment of the content and core of this charter requires the enactment of relevant laws and provisions.
A glimpse at our current predicaments reveals how far from the principles of the new Constitution we are. We need either legislative reform or the empowerment of measures of law enforcement and accountability that have long been lacking. Various Egyptian constitutions have rooted equality, freedoms, rights and the separation of authorities. However, there always existed a legislative gap which allowed these principles to remain mere ink on paper and to be violated without accountability or penalty. Egyptians suffered from countless forms of discrimination already banned by their constitutions.
We now have a Constitution that was elaborately drafted, profoundly and explicitly detailing a clear path for legislative reform, to the point that some constitutional experts have criticised this degree of elaboration; constitutions, it has been claimed, are better off only outlining tenets and principles. However, the bitterness of Egyptians towards the Islamist 2012 Constitution was still all too fresh to leave out any detail. The 2012 Constitution was fraught with ominous hidden meanings which undermined the basic tenets of equality and time honoured moderation Egyptians believed in. This worked to leave Egyptians with a substantial amount of scepticism and apprehension with regard to the charter, making it thus imperative that the new Constitution should be clear-cut, detailed, and carry no text that would bear any hint of double meaning. 
As we charge ahead the road to reform, we must realise this is but the first step we have taken. Now we have before us the challenge of turning this Constitution into a daily-life reality.
WATANI International
19 January 2014
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