Egypt: As in Tunisia, the Constitution must be the first step
Published on Mon, 2011-06-13 10:26
Twenty Egyptian civil society organisations are looking at the Tunisian example to recommend giving priority to the draft of the Constitution that will rule “the institutions of a democratic regime“, and to postpone the parliamentary and presidential elections.
“Turning to the constitution first is a logical step given the armed forces’ public recognition of the legitimacy of the revolution, the fall of the old regime, and the collapse of its constitutional foundations,” warned the organisations (among them the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, national focal point of Social Watch), in a letter to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
“The insistence on putting the cart before the horse – that is, electing a parliament based on the rules of the old regime’s constitution before preparing a constitution for the new order – will allow parties that win parliamentary and presidential elections to manage the drafting of the constitution in accordance with their own narrow interests,” added the groups
Last week, after reaching an accord between political parties, the interim Tunisian government leaded by Prime Minister Béji Caid Essebsi postponed from July 24 to Oct 23 the first democratic election since the ouster of the former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The Egyptian election is scheduled for September.
"We basically had two options: either to hold the election [for a new Constituent Assembly] on July 24 under the supervision of the interior ministry or hold it on Oct 23 and have a free and transparent election," the prime minister said, according to Monia Ghanmi, a journalist for Magharebia.
Now, Egyptian NGOs, echoing calls from various political parties and youth groups, have issued a statement backing the Tunisian model of transition and calling a new constitution to be drafted before parliamentary and presidential elections, explained journalist Issandr El Amrani on The Guardian newspaper.
This is the text of the statement signed by Egyptian civil society organisations, launched last Thursday:
9 June 2011
The undersigned human rights organisations call on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to engage constructively with demands from revolutionary forces to reconsider the agenda of the transitional phase and to give priority to the drafting of a new constitution for the country whose provisions will govern the institutions of a democratic regime. The constitution should be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in accordance with the regulations elaborated by this constitution.
The undersigned organisations believe that turning to the constitution first is a logical step given the armed forces’ public recognition of the legitimacy of the revolution, the fall of the old regime, and the collapse of its constitutional foundations. A new regime must take its place, and its institutions and the relationships between them must be based on a new constitution. This constitution must be drafted first, rather than building the institutions of the new order in accordance with the constitutional rules of the old regime. Now that the 1971 constitution has been given a new life this would be tantamount to reviving the old regime.
It may appear that the current declared course is more in keeping with the desire of the armed forces – and the majority of Egyptians as well – to have the army return to the barracks as soon as possible and to turn over the country to an elected civilian authority, thus fostering the return of political stability and renewed production and development. Nevertheless, we believe that the current course and its timetable threaten to lead the country into a longer period of instability, will delay the army’s return to the barracks, and will have negative consequences for the Egyptian economy.
The insistence on putting the cart before the horse – that is, electing a parliament based on the rules of the old regime’s constitution before preparing a constitution for the new order – will allow parties that win parliamentary and presidential elections to manage the drafting of the constitution in accordance with their own narrow interests. The elected president can be expected to exert pressure to maintain the lion’s share of the imperial powers granted to him by the old constitution and, implicitly, the constitutional declaration. By the same token, elected members of the Shura council, who will be part of the body drafting the constitution, will certainly resist any attempts by a constituent assembly to abolish the upper house in the new constitution, as they would be mandating the dissolution of the same house that they were elected to only a few weeks before. Similarly, new MPs who will be part of the constituent assembly and who were elected to worker or farmer seats will resist proposals to abolish the worker and farmer’s quota in the new constitution.
If we assume for the sake of argument that the constituent assembly will be immune to such pressures from electoral victors, the referendum on the constitution will still entail new parliamentary and presidential elections if the new constitution, for example, adopts a parliamentary rather than presidential system, abolishes the worker’s and farmer’s quotas in the parliament, or abolishes the Shura council and establishes a single-house parliament.
It may be argued that the demand for a constitution first violates the will of Egyptians, a majority of whom (77.2%) voted in the referendum on the constitutional amendments for the transitional agenda contained in those amendments.
Those currently administering the country’s affairs have in many cases abandoned transparency and eschewed participation in managing this highly sensitive transitional phase. This is especially apparent in the lack of any genuine social debate on pressing issues for democratisation, particularly legislation issued in the transitional period. The political parties’ law, the law on the exercise of political rights, and the law criminalising strikes were all issued without the slightest consultation with society, political parties, and civil society, and these laws are still subject to broad criticism given their negative impact on the transitional period and democratisation.
Finally, the undersigned organisations stress that the demand for a constitution first will correct the political course and put the democratic transition back on its logical, natural path. It is the constitution; after all, that establishes the foundations for constitutional institutions, their electoral systems, and the relationship among them – not the other way round.