Egypt: MPs, Writers’ Union Demand Consensus Constitution

Citing a lack of representation–for women, youth, religious groups, political movements, geographic regions–fourteen MPs (Members of Parliament) and other secular elements of Egypt’s constitution-writing assembly had withdrawn their participation by Monday afternoon, according to Egypt Independent. The 100-member assembly tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution is dominated by Parliament members from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafi Nour Party.

Egypt's Parliament (AP Image. Accessed at Ahram Online.)

Some resigning members went beyond issues of representation and the urgency of a consensus-based constitution to decry the parliamentary majority’s takeover of the drafting assembly. While recognizing the Islamists’ majority right to broader representation, the independent MP Amr Hamzawy argued that nominations to the committee were influenced by political affiliation over competence and relevant expertise. On Sunday, Hamzawy polled his constituents on facebook on whether he should remain as a representative on the drafting panel–eventually siding with the minority and his conscience. His statement to the assembly specifically rejected “the marginalization of women, youth, Copts and the exclusion of several of Egypt’s competent legal and economic experts.”

Monday’s committee resignations were preceded on Sunday by the Union of Egyptian Writers’ (UEW) strong condemnation of the election process to the constituent committee. According to Ahram Online, 50 percent of members were chosen from the Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly and Shura Council, and 50 percent from outside parliament.  The UEW contended that—as per the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) Constitutional Declaration, approved by referendum in a March 2011–MPs should choose from representatives nominated by civil society organizations, such as unions.  The MP’s job is to elect, not nominate representatives. The UEW had thus submitted 10 names to the committee, including honored Egyptian intellectuals, but the list was ignored.

Ironically enough, the  UEW’s list of nominees was itself controversial. Union member Fares Khedr said the list was not compiled through public discussion, and was based more on the writers fame than real expertise.

Among writers’ predictions of troubled times for the ongoing revolution, novelist Gamal El-Ghitany told Ahram Online that the Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament “stands against writers and literature.” He also expressed surprise for the lack of reaction by liberal factions—that was Sunday. Monday, the reaction was growing.

While acknowledging divisions in the intellectual movement against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and a dim future ahead, El-Ghitany still believes that “Egypt will not become an Islamic country.”

Novelist Mekkawi Said saw the exclusion of academics as more extreme that than the former regime’s appeasing pretenses, and predicted an impoverishment of the people’s political consciousness as a result.

But lawyer and writer Ahmed Zaghloul El-Shaity expressed a different view to  Ahram Online saying the constitutional battle has been fought and settled: by an “unofficial coalition of the ruling military council, Islamists and ex-members of the Mubarak administration.” And if Kehdr is right—“We have idiots for politicians that do not read daily newspapers”—the revolution is stalling.

UPDATE–March 28, 2012
Some insightful analysis at “The Arabist“:

If there is a sizeable number of people who think the constitution is illegitimate and the consensus around is weak, there is a risk down the line that this would make a coup (soft or hard) easier. Egypt will be naturally coup-prone in the next few years, and while the Brothers say they want consensus, the Salafists have a more winner-takes-all approach and want to nominate figures such as Sheikh Mohammed Hassan, a popular preacher, who will push for a very strict interpretation of Sharia

UPDATE–March 29, 2012
Egypt Independent reported that following today’s withdrawal of Al-Ahzar‘s sole representative from the constituent assembly, the FJP yielded 10 of its own seats to liberal appointees. Speaking to Egypt Independent, Moety Bayoumy, a member of the university’s Islamic Research Academy, had admonishing words for the Muslim Brotherhood:

It should not be at all that one trend dominates the constituent assembly as it violates the principles of Islam. […] I have said from the beginning that the constituent assembly is invalid for so many reasons […] I say to these Islamists, you represent certain people, because the true Islamists who understand Islam, and its position on the civil state, seek directly by virtue of their culture and their knowledge of Islam to include all the effective elements in the Muslim community to develop a new constitution. This is the true Islamic society.
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Egypt: Compromise or a Second Wave of Revolution?

RT.com (Russian Today, TV Network in English) devoted some airtime to Egypt today under the title, “Permanent Revolution: Resistance lives among disillusioned Egyptians.”

Among the disillusioned interviewed by the network was Khaled Telema, an activist with the Coalition of the Youth Revolution:

We weren’t against Mubarak as a person; we were against the whole system, against oppression and injustice. Although the SCAF [the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] said they were pro-revolution, their actions show they’re applying the same techniques used by him [Mubarak].

As reported by Human Rights Watch in September of 2011, in roughly 8 months of military rule, over 12,000 Egyptians had already faced military tribunals, a distant record against Mubarak’s 30-year ruling. Speaking to RT, journalist and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy said that more than 13,000 Egyptians have been processed through military courts in the last year, including labor strikers–formerly tried in ordinary courts–and the rubber bullets that dispersed demonstrators in the past have been replaced by live ammunition.

Questioned on the controversy surrounding the mostly-Islamist composition of the panel charged with drafting Egypt’s constitution, Dr. Jamal Sultan of the Al-Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, warned that this lack of representation of other views would intensify political struggle and instability. However, when pressed about the West’s expectations for Egypt’s transition to democracy versus the prospect of an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law, Dr. Sultan defined the “name of the game” as being about “governance and stability”–not about human rights:

I believe that if the Islamist government in Egypt will be able to provide governance and stability and won’t be a cause for instability at the regional level […] perhaps the West will at least remain silent if there are things that they might not like, in terms of civil liberties or human rights in the country.

Clearly the West has remained silent before, for decades at a time. But Dr. Sultan goes further:

The problem with the Mubarak regime was that it wasn’t effective in providing for this stability, and I think that if an Islamist government would do it, I think the West would live with that.

Put this way, Dr. Sultan himself appears ready to “live with that,” which would ring contrary to his warnings about a one-world-view constitution.

But while some might hope for stability at any cost, others, such political activist Nahla Salem (also interviewed by RT), see the growing compromises as fuel for a “second wave of the revolution”:

The economic situation is really getting worse, and I believe [the] people who are suffering nowadays, because they can’t afford to feed their families they are going to lead […] a second wave of the revolution, but it’s going to be really, really aggressive, and really, really violent and bloody.”

Unfortunately for Egypt’s poor, revolutions don’t have an history of improving economic conditions for everyday citizens.