Skip to main content

Egypt's Draft Constitution: How Democratic Is It?

Egypt's draft constitution may be imperfect, but it's still the most democratic constitution the country has ever seen, Omar Ashour writes.
Shura Council Chairman Ahmed Fahmy (C) casts his vote in a referendum on Egypt's new constitution, at a polling station in Zagazig, Sharqiya Governorate, about 62.5 km (38.8 miles) northeast of Cairo December 15, 2012. Egyptians queued in long lines on Saturday to vote on a constitution promoted by its Islamist backers as the way out of a political crisis and rejected by opponents as a recipe for further divisions in the Arab world's biggest nation. REUTERS/Stringer  (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

The title of this piece is a spinoff from Robert Dahl’s seminal book entitled How Democratic is the American Constitution? There, the famous political scientist argued that the American constitution has undemocratic elements, including the powers of the appointed judiciary to declare legislation by elected institutions “unconstitutional.” (Sound familiar?) But away from the mature American democracy, how democratic is transitional Egypt’s new draft constitution?

On the positive side, this is Egypt’s first-ever constitution-crafting process whose assembly was elected by parliament and not appointed by a dictator, whether in the form of a monarch, as in 1923 and 1930, or in the form of a military junta, as in 1956 and 1971. Unfortunately, this fact partly explains the current instability. Add to that the rise of a new political elite, mostly from the religious lower-middle classes, who have no ruling experience. Will this new elite turn Egypt into a theocracy via the constitution, as many in the upper-middle and upper classes who reject it claim? Or is this just a myth propagated by conflicting groups whose only commonality is being losers, either in the democratic game or in the revolutionary process? 

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.