Egypt’s constitution: Conflicting visions

Analysis, posted 05.17.2012, from Egypt, in:
Egypt’s constitution: Conflicting visions (Photo: Al Arabiya)

Fears that a new Egyptian constitution will produce a dysfunctional and undemocratic outcome are rapidly coming to a head. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been pushing to draft a new constitution at breakneck speed, and its most recent decision to move up the presidential candidate nomination period to 10 March might make the constitution’s already compressed timeline even more volatile.

According to the transitional roadmap originally proposed by the SCAF, in order to produce a new constitution before the presidential election, the legislature would need to elect a 100-member constitutional assembly and draft the document in a matter of weeks, between the conclusion of Shura Council elections in March and the opening of the nomination period for presidential candidates on 15 April. But now that the SCAF has moved the date up a month earlier than planned — in a last-ditch effort to diffuse rising opposition to military rule by expediting a power transfer — it is unclear if Egypt’s military leaders will accommodate demands to delay the drafting process until after the election.

Only until recently, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party backed the military’s announced timelines. This arrangement has since shown signs of strain. On 28 January, Ahmed Abu Baraka, the head of the FJP’s legal affairs unit, explained that the party views the presidential election and constitution-writing process as two parallel tracks that need not be conducted sequentially but could instead proceed side by side. This stance effectively dodges the debate over which should come before the other. But with the military’s roadmap thoroughly delegitimized by renewed violence and protests, the Brotherhood may soon be forced to decisively withdraw support from SCAF’s preferred schedule of events and back the drafting of a new constitution under civilian oversight.

The contentious question of how and when the constitution should be written is at the center of the SCAF-Muslim Brotherhood power struggle. And while the Brotherhood has been willing to scale back some of its previously stated political ambitions (as when it backed down from earlier threats to dissolve the interim cabinet after parliamentary elections), the constitution is the one area where it will not in all likelihood yield any ground; it has made it perfectly clear that Parliament has the exclusive authority — backed by a legal as well as popular mandate — to appoint a constituent assembly, and that it intends to carry the “burden” of framing the constitution without SCAF’s unwanted assistance.

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By Mara Revkin

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