Egypt’s new constitution: legitimizing an illegitimate order

Egypt’s new constitution: legitimizing an illegitimate order

Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour has set January 14 and 15, 2014, as the dates for a referendum on the country’s amended constitution. Amr Moussa – former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Mubarak and the 2012 presidential candidate – is chairman of the (fifty-member) Committee tasked with amending the 2012 constitution.

He has stated that this new constitution guarantees that Egypt will have a “civilian government” and it will promote the creation of a “democratic and modern state”. He stressed that Egypt will have no military or theocratic government. He also lists several articles that will guarantee freedom for Egyptians, including freedom of religion and freedom of expression. The call for a referendum on the constitutional amendments comes at a time of intense polarization.
According to Moussa it is precisely this constitutional amendment that will restore stability to the ailing country. He said, ‘if people vote yes, this will end the state of fitnah (sedition) in Egypt and it will prevent it from the dangerous state it currently is’. On the other hand, he discounts the possibility of a ‘No’ vote. However, if this were to happen the military would pass a temporary constitutional declaration until a consensus is reached.
Supporters of ousted president Mursi and other anti- coup groups have announced that they will boycott the referendum. They maintain that the coup authorities are not to be trusted and do not even have the legitimacy to call for such a referendum. They argue that 2012 constitution represents the democratic will of the people. Some anti-coup groups assert that it is rather suspicious that the military refused to allow  any international observers during the vote. They stress that not only is the new government and the military illegitimate, they are not to be trusted as well.

It is hard to give an accurate timeline to the secular-Islamist polarization; however, the overthrow of the democratically elected Islamist president and the subsequent massacre and crackdown on his supporters ushered Egypt to a critical chapter of its history. The sensationalist protests on the 30th of June were dubbed as the new Egyptian revolution against theocracy and Islamic fascism. This new revolution seemed to have acquired the tangible legitimacy that the 25th of January revolution only could hope for.
In the name of this revolution the elected government of Muhammad Mursi was not only barred from politics but it was also physically targeted. For example Khirat al-Shater, a prominent figure in the Freedom and Justice Party, was filmed as the authorities arrested him in his bedroom; Muhammad Badie, the head of the guidance council of the Muslim Brotherhood was arrested and his son was killed and Muhammad El-Beltagy was arrested alongside his son and his 17-year old daughter was killed. The military did not only target those in the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood but also ordinary civilians against the coup.
The military authorities called for a nation wide protest to give it a mandate to clear the country of terrorism. After which the military stormed Rabia al-Adwiya – the neighborhood where opponents of the coup had been protesting for many months killing from 600 to 2000 civilians. On the 25th of December 2013, the interim government officially labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. After which, the Minister of Social Solidarity announced that any Muslim Brotherhood protest is banned on this basis. The coup authorities have taken several steps after the 30th of June to establish their legitimacy most important of which is the referendum on the constitutional amendment.

The draft of the constitution of Egypt was given to Adly Mansour the new president when Egypt was in a state polarization between those who accept the new constitution or reject the constitution written by 50 figures that were appointed by the temporary government after the 3rd of July coup. The new constitution upholds the military trials for civilians. And the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will determine the minister of the defense for the next 8 years. The constitution will leave space to the president Adly Mansour or the army that runs him to outline the roadmap, which will entail Egypt may be parliamentary or presidential system. On this ground this will ground if the presidential or parliamentary elections will be first.
Azhar also plays a significant role in creating this new legitimacy. The religious institution said it rejects calls to ban participation in the referendum on religious grounds, describing them as “odd jurisdictions that violate Islamic Sharia.”
The statement added that Egyptians are obliged to end the current period of “worry, instability, and confusion [and work towards] reform, stability and security,” deeming participation in the referendum as a “national duty and part of the purpose of Sharia.”
Tamarrod was clear in its stance as the coup d’état took place. However today some people from the Tamarrod movement is not a part of what the military stands for. The army is trying to create a new order and a new status quo in which there is legitimacy by nullifying the constitution that was passed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
There will not be international surveillance for the referendum. However the Arab League will be surveillance for the referendum. There is a curiosity on what kind of surveillance the Arab League will provide the military with. Some wonder if old mobile phones with cameras are to be expected amongst ballot boxes (as the team of the Arab League did when they were conducting the surveillance in Syria).

Hizb An-Nur, the face of the Islamists that are in support of the coup and the new constitution is considered to be an effective political party in Egypt. In Alexandria, it came the second party in the elections, which gives them a sizeable amount. Yet there is no percentage that follows them because some of their supporters left the party politics.
Many Muslim brotherhood supporters are disappointed to see this call to vote for yes by the leaders of the Hizb an-Nur. However according to a poll conducted by the website of the Hizb An-Nur , 58 percent of parties supporters are not going to follow the party line. There is a rift between the leadership and the bases. The head of the legal department on Hizb An-Nur states that they will explain the philosophy of the constitution to their popular bases so they will accept it. This says that the party are recognizes the popular bases are not with them.

The contrast between the 2012 constitution and the 2014 one is great. However, the most striking difference is that elected officials chose the committee that wrote the constitution in 2012 while those in 2014 were appointed by coup authorities. Instead of having a representative constitution, they labeled their opponents ‘terrorist’ depriving them from any form of representation.
The members of the constitutional committee are all supporters of the coup. Even the Islamists represented in the committee are known to be opponents if not outright hostile to the Freedom and Justice party. The Islamist representative from An-Nur Party has been replaced many times because the military felt that their loyalty was in question. The other Islamist representative is Kamal El Helbawi, former spokesman for the Brotherhood in Europe. Having left the Muslim Brotherhood after a public disagreement on policies, Helbawi built his ‘post-Brotherhood’ political career on criticizing the Brotherhood. In an interview on a pro military channel, Kamal El Helbawy responded to Rabaa Square being massacred by saying,
‘Even though it is legitimate to disband the sit-in because of the existence of unlicensed weapons, I fear that the spread of chaos may lead us into the Syria scenario which will ultimately cause foreign intervention. I worry that our women, our mother and sisters, may end up as refugees in Sudan or Libya just as Syrian women have.’
Other political parties that have won elections and therefore enjoy someform of popular support such as Hizb al Bina wa Tanmi and Hizb al Wasat were not represented in the committee. On the other hand parties that have not been successful in the elections such as the proto-soviet Hizb Tajammu were represented in the committee. It is also important to point out that there was no national debate on the amendments for their sole aim was to create an alternative legitimacy.
The specific emissions in clauses of the 2012 constitution are particularly interesting. For example, article 4 of the constitution about the role of  al-Azhar which states that the state takes the opinion of the Azhar scholars in issues related to sharia was deleted. Article 6, which discusses the nature of the political system, the words democracy and shurah were both deleted.
The constitution also tampered with the economic rights and welfare of the more disadvantaged Egyptian – which at best represent 40% of the population. There will no longer be a quota representation of workers and peasants in the parliament. This was established during the time of the Nasser to ensure that their rights are maintained. The quota was maintained by all administrations since; even if it only upheld a pretense of social justice. Furthermore, the article that links wages to productivity has also been deleted. This means that even if the workers were to produce a great deal they are not entitled to a proportional pay. The committee also deleted the ten-year deadline in which the previous administration promised to erase illiteracy; perhaps fearing that the Egyptians would actually read this constitution.
The 2012 constitution stated that the freedom of thought and opinion is given to every human being and they cannot appear in front of a court of law for stating their opnion. The latter part of the clause was deleted opening the gates to prosecution for a stated opinion. The committee also maintained that the security the cyber space falls under the jurisdiction of national security. This gives the state right to parole the cyber state and spy on activists.
As for the civilian-military relations, the military has much more power. The new constitution maintains that civilian could be tried in a military court. Furthermore, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces must appoint Minister of Defense not the president. The Minister of Defense thereby has complete immunity. He, therefore, has more authority than any elected president. This effectively, affirms the military institution’s position as not only separate but superior to the state.

The changes that have been made are by in large to do with clauses of identity and social justice. The aim for which is two fold; to change the perceived image of the state and to establish political and economic clusters of power that cannot be tampered with. The committee members whom supposedly represent the Egyptian people only include those that have supported the coup. The coup authorities might have slightly mistaken on who the Egyptian people they wish to represent are. They put up a banner towering the streets of Cairo that promotes the constitution calling it an ‘All Egyptian’s Constitution’ with the image of three urban, successful Egyptians, one peasant and a soldier. The three successful, urban Egyptians were not even Egyptian. As well meaning as this mistake may be it represents the military’s and the secular forces imagined identity.
By systematically removing any word which carries some form Islamic connotation, they are trying to discount the Islamic identity from the national imagination. In the amended constitution, the committee asserted the Arabic, Pharaohic and Coptic identity rather than the Islamic. Furthermore the first article in 2012 constitution which defines the Egyptian nation was amended by deleting the clause which states `the Egyptian nation prides itself in its belonging to the Nile basin countries and the African continent with its Asian extension and it contributes positively to the human civilization`. This alludes to a decreased cooperation with African states and a shifted gaze to the Global North (Europe and North America).

Source: World Bulletin





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