Liberal Views on the Egyptian Constitution

The word in Arabic, dostour, means constitution

The word in Arabic, dostour, means constitution

From a recent article on Arab West Report, to which I contributed a section reporting from a conference held by Egyptian liberals on the ideal constitution. Somewhat surprisingly, there was a good deal of sentiment against the military council:

Essam al-Din Hassan next spoke about the principle of freedom and the encroachments against it in negotiations over the new constitution. One feature of these negotiations is the efforts of the Ministry of Defense and al-Azhar to entrench their independence from the rest of the state. In terms of the military, standing apart from the rest of the executive authority – essentially two heads of state – would be terrible for the civil state and allow Egypt to again become a military, police state.

It is not unreasonable to think, he stated, that the military might trade this status with religious forces that are also looking for gains in the constitution, especially the Salafīs. They are arguing to keep Article 219 somewhere in the text, providing a conservative, Sunni-specific interpretation to the clause in Article 2 saying sharia is the primary source of legislation. But even Article 2, he argued, designating a religion for the state, has no place in a civil state. Article 3, similarly, guaranteeing special religious rights for the Copts, only reinforces the idea of a religious state. To curb such sectarian advances, firm consensus must be gathered in the committee of fifty which is rewriting the Constitution, so that civil state principles are protected, even from the tools of democracy which might undo them.

Ahmad Raghib spoke less about the necessary constitutional provisions for human dignity than the danger of their constant undermining. He noted that previous Egyptian constitutions, such as the 1971 version which governed up until the January 25 Revolution, provided guarantees for human dignity. This did not, however, stop the state from ignoring them, or even trampling upon them as was visible in the police torture cases against Khalid Saeed and Ahmad Bilal.

Raghib expanded Hassan’s warning about the military saying most institutions of state are seeking to enshrine their independence in the Constitution. This is expressly against the will of the people, however, who should have their elected officials administratively responsible for all these institutions. Unfortunately, in the previous Constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood collaborated with these institutions to preserve Mubarak’s state and keep it and the military council immune from their crimes. He closed with the expectation that a third wave of the Revolution might be necessary to put things right and secure a true modern civil constitution.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report, which contains further reporting from the conference as well as observations from an interview with Rev. Safwat al-Baiady, president of the Protestant churches of Egypt and a member in the constitutional committee.

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