Egypt’s New Constitution Is a Step Backward

Article Summary
Egypt’s newly passed constitution is even worse than the 1971 Constitution when it comes to guarantees of equality and basic rights, writes Wahid Abdel Majid.

The political authorities can impose anything on the people, except for a constitution. The constitution can only exist through agreement and consensus, just like marriage. Whenever harmony is absent from marriage, it is over. The same applies for the constitution.

This is a lesson on modern world history. Egypt is no exception, and the fate of the 1930 Constitution is a witness to this fact.

No constitution has survived when it didn’t receive a consensus and was rejected by broad categories of society, regardless of referendum results. A controversial constitution has never achieved stability, nor has it ended turbulence. This is true particularly when it is passed in the midst of a sharp division that has produced attack-and-retreat street battles for the first time in Egypt’s history.

We could have avoided this entire misfortune, if the political authorities had listened to the voice of reason and positively responded to the proposals of some presidential advisers — where all non-members of the Muslim Brotherhood resigned, including the Salafists.

The most important proposal involves reinstating the 1971 Constitution — along with the amendments that were subject to referendum on March 19, 2011 — to serve as an interim constitution for one or two years. These amendments reduced the powers of the president of the republic, and gave him fewer powers than those he has under the new constitution, contrary to the claims of those who insist on hijacking the homeland. Temporarily reinstating the 1971 Constitution would calm the situation and decrease congestion until we become able to hold a serious national dialogue on the new constitution, away from the clashes that threaten the country and its people.

The 1971 Constitution — as a whole — remains better than the new one. The latter was finalized in a sudden manner, and passed promptly through a referendum tainted by falsehoods before most Egyptians had the chance to learn about the dangers that it poses to them. The people were denied their basic rights, which consist of knowing the content of this constitution in detail. Only two weeks separated the passage of the draft constitution — which took place in a matter of hours — from the referendum.

The constitution was promptly hijacked before most Egyptians realized that it is indeed worse than the 1971 Constitution. In many important aspects, it will have a direct impact on their lives. Nobody anticipated this when the people were overjoyed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ decision to suspend the 1971 Constitution, on Feb. 13, 2011.

People had hoped for a more advanced new constitution worthy of Egypt; a constitution that serves as a role model to restore the leading role that Egypt once had. They had hoped that it would surpass other Arab constitutions that are better that the 1971 Constitution, particularly the Moroccan constitution which was drafted last year following events there.

However, that did not happen. The new constitution — in some very important ways — is worse than the 1971 Constitution. It can be considered the worst constitution in Egypt's modern history, that is, since the 1923 Constitution. This is particularly true when it comes to guaranteeing equality, rights and freedoms to Egyptians.

The new constitution is devoid of the only article that guarantees equality among Egyptians before the law, and equality of their rights and obligations. This is because the relevant text — which is Article 33 — was suspended after the contents of the previous constitutions were annulled, i.e., banning any kind of discrimination on grounds of sex, origin, language, religion or belief. Moreover, if we add to this the fact that the 1971 constitutional article on equality between men and women was also annulled, danger becomes certain. Unless the people continue their peaceful resistance, which they have proven to be capable of embracing by various means, this threat will remain. This danger is not only limited to women, because excluding this main guarantee to achieve equality includes equality of origin, religion and belief.

Furthermore, there has been a similarly dangerous decline in the state's commitment to protect the freedom of belief and the freedom of religious practice.

Under the new constitution, the state is only required to refrain from taking actions that impede the freedom of belief. However, the state is not obliged to guarantee this freedom or to protect any citizen if threatened or assaulted because of his or her beliefs or religion.

Once this decline takes place and the 1971 Constitutional articles that guarantee Egypt's commitment to implement ratified agreements and conventions are annulled, the people will be denied any guarantee of some of their most important rights and freedoms. They will be subject to the control of any parliamentary majority over the patterns of their daily lives without any constitutional protection.

Thus, the day has come for the Egyptians — who are aware of these dangers — to hope for the return of the 1971 Constitution, which they have impregnated with libel, slander and satire for almost four decades!!

Found in: referendum, mohammed morsi, egyptian constitution, egypt, boycott

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