Note: I wrote this post a couple of days ago, but forgot to publish it… So here it is.
Over the past few weeks, Egypt has again seen scenes of large demonstrations and clashes between anti-government protesters on the one hand and pro-government supporters and police forces on the other. Protesters turned back to the streets after president Morsi issued a constitutional decree on November 22. Already on November 19, mostly youth clashed with the Central Security Forces after they staged a demonstration in Mohamed Mahmoud Street to remember their friends who died during last year’s clashes with the army. After Morsi’s decree, which extends his powers and makes him and the Constituent Assembly immune from judicial oversight, people in other cities also took to the streets.
It should be clear that Morsi has not succeeded in uniting the Egyptian society, or has even tried to. On the contrary, by the unilateral actions of the Muslim Brotherhood on several (subjects), and by disregarding of all the objections to the draft constitution made by the opposition, Egypt has become more polarized than ever before. One thing has to be noted though: the Muslim Brotherhood has been cooperating excellently with the even more fundamentalist salafi groups, mainly the Nour Party. The drafting process of the constitution poses as a perfect example.
Already from its very establishment the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting Egypt’s first post-revolutionary constitution, has been dominated by the above-mentioned Islamist parties. After strong protest, the first assembly was disbanded by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, the authority that took over power after Mubarak’s ousting. The new assembly however, showed the same symptoms of its predecessor: Islamists dominating and marginalising the other political parties. Steadily, more and more non-Islamist members resigned, including important politicians as Amr Moussa, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Secretary-General of the Arab League.
One of the members who resigned from the assembly, member of the secular Wafd Party, said that members who objected to the dominance of the Islamists were intimidated. According to him, the assembly’s president, Hossam el-Gheryany, a member of the Brotherhood, made it almost impossible for them to perform their job within the assembly. In the end, they saw no other option then to resign. Not that resigning made a difference though. By the way in which the block of Brothers and Salafis operated, the opposition to the draft constitution had already been silenced.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that the final result, the draft constitution, mainly serves the Muslim Brotherhood’s and Salafi groups’ interests. There are many examples of this, a few of them will be given below. One of the main objections of seculars and liberals obviously is the role of Islamic law (the sharia) within the constitution. Article 2 states that sharia is the main source of legislation, which makes the seperation of religion and state non-existent. Article 4 states that only the Islamic institution of Al-Azhar, the most important authority regarding Sunni Islam, may define the meaning and contents of sharia. The position of the Grand Shaykh unimpeachable. It must be said that even Al-Azhar doesn’t agree with the role that it has been given.
There are also several articles that restrict freedom of civillians and that leave the possibility for the state to act as the moral authority of Egypt. Article 10 for example, states that the state will protect the moral values of the Egyptian family. Besides that, article 10 also imposes a conservative interpretation of the role of women in their families.
The power of the army, a very important player within Egyptian politics, has been left unchallenged in the new constitution. Democratic oversight of military affairs has not been secured. Eight of the fifteen members of the National Defense Council hail from the military, while only simple majority is needed for decision-making, thus making sure that civilians can’t challenge the military in this council. Besides the lack of democratic control, the military is still allowed to try civilians in its courts, if the crime was committed against the army, a very vague description which can easily be exploited. Apparently, the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t want to constrain the army’s powers.
On December 15, Egyptians will be able to vote on the constitution in a referendum. The opposition however, has demanded that Morsi postpones the vote and rescinds his constitutional decree that caused the current political crisis. It is still unclear if the Muslim Brotherhood will give in to these demands. If they don’t, Egyptians will most likely vote the constitution into law, mainly because of the well-organized voting machine that the Muslim Brotherhood can rely on, as well as bribing poor voters with food and other benefits (also known as vote-rigging). Egypt will then, almost two years after the revolution, be burdened with a very bad constitution, potentially granting the state enormous powers.