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The answer is in the ballot box

Youssef Sidhom

16 Nov 2013 11:14 am

Problems on hold

All Egypt is astir with heated controversy over the outcome of the work of the Committee of the Fifty that is now drafting a new constitution for the country. Technically, the committee is not writing a ‘new’ constitution from scratch; it is amending the [Islamist] constitution which Mursi rushed overnight in November 2012 and which was later approved by some 64 per cent in a shady referendum where the turnout was little more than 30 per cent. Once the Islamist regime was overthrown on 3 July in the aftermath of the 30 June massive revolution, the interim president issued a decision to form a 10-member panel to work a preliminary amendment to the 2012 constitution, and a 50-member committee to finally draft the amended constitution that would then be put up for referendum.  When it was formed on 1 September, the Committee of the Fifty was hailed by the Egyptian public and politicians as a competent, reliable body. It didn’t take much, however, for the committee to become the target of widespread suspicions, apprehensions, and controversy.
Fiery debate on the committee’s discussions made a spicy repast which the media offered daily to the public and, predictably, impacted negatively the committee’s focus and work. This begs the question of whether it would have been wiser to slap a print ban on the committee’s activity, and suffice with the statements and declarations issued by its spokesman, in order to avoid the clamour that now abounds. The secrecy would have spared the public the immense misunderstanding exported through rumours and the divergent opinions, objectives and inclinations of the various media outlets. It would also have been a boon for the members of the committee to evade the accusations currently hurled at them.
It was impossible for the committee chairman to swear the members to secrecy like a football trainer would do with his team, threatening with penalties if they break the silence. Amr Moussa, Chairman of the Committee of the Fifty only announced that the elected spokesman Muhammad Salmawi was the only person authorised to speak on behalf of the committee; anything other than his words would be individual opinion.
The door was left ajar for the committee members to decide whether or not or when to speak up, each according to his or her wisdom and sense of responsibility. The result was that all the conflicts, confrontations and divergent outlooks inside the committee and subcommittees swiftly found their way to the media which promptly transferred them to the public. So while the committee was yet in the phase of brewing the constitution and no constitutional amendments had been decided upon, the Egyptian public took to roaring, protesting and threatening against what had not yet taken form. The result was that parallel fields of conflict cropped up everywhere.
Today, the media’s exaggerated focus has given rise to talk of deals and conspiracies within the committee, to the point of suggesting that it would hand Egypt a fraud of a constitution. Egyptians have fallen prey to fears and worries that the committee they trusted to rectify the 2012 Islamist constitution would not perform its mission, and that the revolution they waged at the cost of so much pain, to bring change to Egypt, would come to nothing.
I say: let’s be patient and not jump to conclusions. Matters will definitely not get out of control, and the Committee of the Fifty will surely not let down the people. We should understand that the nature of the work at this phase involves a tug of war, then extends to include successive attempts at achieving harmony among the divergent sectors of the community.  Ultimately, when the committee gets to vote on the amendments for the final draft, the majority vote stipulated by the committee will firmly apply.
To add insult to injury and compound matters, superfluous issues are being raised outside the committee as if the debates inside were not enough. Last week an allegation surfaced that the 60 days stipulated by the presidential decree for the committee to complete its work had already expired on 8 November and that activity beyond this date was invalid. But the plain fact was that the 60 day-period denoted 60 working days rather than 60 consecutive days, as explained by the committee spokesman who also said that the State Council had approved all the work processes set up by the committee.
Shouldn’t we apply wisdom and calm, and wait for the committee to present its final draft constitution? I believe there is no purpose for outsize reactions towards the activity of the committee, nor for the terror of the suspected hijacking of the constitution. We must be confident that everything will be transparently announced on time, and that the referendum which will follow will be non-hijackable. The people’s vote alone will determine whether or not the draft constitution will pass. But let me warn you that unless 60 per cent of the voters rally behind the required vote, we can blame no-one but ourselves if the Islamists hijack Egypt through the ‘legitimacy of the ballot box’. The Islamists, the main faction who opposed the 30 June Revolution, were in the minority; we ought not give them the upper hand by failing to show up for the polls. But then rallying for the ballots is a crucial, destiny-determining issue that will decide the fate of our country. Since it applies to the referendum as well as to the parliamentary and presidential elections that will follow, it warrants express warning of the dire fate that awaits us should we resort to apathy.

WATANI International
17 November 2013


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