Egypt’s amended constitution fit for dictators


by Ayman Ahmed

January, 2014

The thugs that have ruled Egypt for decades are re-writing a new constitution to provide a veneer of legitimacy for their illegal rule. The people meanwhile are being deprived of basic rights.

Like democracy, constitutions are handy tools in the hands of dictators. They facilitate legitimization of illegal power grab and provide a veneer of respectability; at least that is what the dictators think. The regime’s hangers-on that benefit in going along with whatever charade the regime enacts, as is currently happening in Egypt, are there to accede to the demands of the dictator, however ludicrous.

A “new amended constitution” drafted by a 50-member committee will be voted on in a referendum on January 14–15, according to the military-installed interim President Adly Mansour. In a televised broadcast on December 14, 2013, he urged Egyptians to vote in large numbers — he could hardly say vote in small numbers! — to approve the “new” constitution. This is the third constitution Egyptians will be voting on in three years. Not bad for a country that has not had free and fair elections in its entire history since the time of the Pharaohs.

Mansour was cautious in his pronouncements about the constitution avoiding any tall claims. Instead, he called it a “good start on which to build the institutions of a democratic and modern state.” Almost instantly, huge banners appeared on major street intersections urging Egyptians to participate.

The previous constitution drafted and approved in December 2012 during ousted President Mohamed Mursi’s tenure has been amended in ways that mangles the spirit of the constitution. Secularists and candidates that had lost the presidential election had boycotted the drafting assembly during Mursi’s presidency. This was used as a pretext to reject the 64% approval vote in the constitutional referendum. The new drafting assembly appointed by the military is dominated by secularists; the Ikhwan-backed Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) was kept out of the assembly. Not surprisingly, the FJP has called for a boycott and insisted unless a 75% approval was secured, it would not accept its validity, according to the government mouthpiece, al-Ahram (December 18). “The Freedom and Justice Party calls on the free Egyptian people to boycott this so-called referendum. This null and void charter was drafted by a minority and is designed to give immunity to murderers who led a bloody military coup that was an insult to the dignity and will of Egyptians,” it said in a statement on December 18.

“The military coup has defiled the legitimate constitution that was approved by a two-thirds majority and has produced an abomination instead,” the FJP statement said. “It is driving people to vote yes in exceptional circumstances and making them give up their rights and those of future generations.” The Ikhwan-backed party also said it would continue its “peaceful revolutionary escalation against the military coup.”

In a tit-for-tat, Mansour called on those who oppose the “road map” set by the military chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on July 3 to “give up on their stubbornness,” to stop “following a mirage [of Mursi returning to power],” and to “join the nation.” What or who exactly constitutes the “nation”: the military brutes that ousted the first-ever elected president in Egyptian history and then murdered thousands of innocent people holding peaceful protests in the streets — or the FJP?

But even a constitution drafted under the watchful gaze of the military is not fully accepted within secularist circles. The secularists wanted to exclude any role for Islam in the overwhelmingly Muslim society. They wanted to include a specific article guaranteeing a “civil state.” This was added in the preambles but termed “civil rule,” and still later changed to “civil government.” There have also been allegations of changes to the approved draft. The regime had to wheel out Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under the ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and former Secretary General of the Arab League, to deny the allegations. Moussa has emerged as an unofficial spokesman for the military-backed regime because of his vast experience.

The draft constitution has other flaws as well. Article 219 that had made the Shari‘ah an integral part of the 2012 constitution has been dropped. Also gone is Article 76 that had allowed the Shari‘ah body access to the penal code. In other words, the overwhelmingly Muslim majority country will have no Islamic laws in its constitution. The military, a thoroughly secular institution, and the secular elite of Egypt are allergic to Islam.

What has remained unchanged is the role of the military. It has in fact been strengthened by being given a veto power over the appointment of the head of the armed forces (nobody should forget who is boss), and the defence minister for eight years. To incorporate such vast powers for the military that controls much of the country’s economy as well into the constitution indicates the real power brokers in society. It might have been more honest to say it is a constitution of the military, for the military, by the military and people had better get used to it. Why put the people through an exercise in which the majority party, the Ikhwan, is banned and its leaders are locked up in prison facing treason and murder charges?

It is quite revealing that the day after ousted President Mursi was charged with murder (on December 18), a Cairo court dismissed all corruption-related charges against Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, as well as former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. The later had lost to Mursi in the run off presidential race in June 2012. The trio were charged with embezzlement of public funds in the Pilots’ Association for Land Development.

Shafiq retired as air force chief and then served as minister of aviation in the Mubarak regime in the 1990s. He managed the development project in 1992 and is known to have taken over 40,000 sq. meters of land belonging to fishing farms. The land was illegally allocated to the association before reselling it to the Mubarak sons at throwaway prices. Two other former air force chiefs, Nabil Shoukry and Mohammed Reda were also acquitted by the same court. While acquitted by the Criminal Court, Shafiq and the Mubarak sons face other corruption charges as well but in military-dominated Egypt, these too are expected to be thrown out as well.

While criminals have been let go, innocent people that have had a popular mandate from the people are rotting in jail. At the same time, the criminal syndicate is about to give itself a constitution to continue military rule indefinitely. The people of Egypt deserve better.