Friday, 6 December 2013

Egypt in Transition

Egypt in Transition

By Dr. Mozammel Haque

There were two meetings on Egypt recently, one on “Egypt in Transition” at International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on 17 October and another on “Egypt: The Political map” at Chatham House, on 18 October, 2013. The speakers were from the Constitution-making body of Egypt who came to the United Kingdom. They were discussing about the framing of the Constitution, the rights of women, rights of minorities in the future Constitution of the country. They also mentioned about the form of Government, Presidential or Parliamentary, the powers of the President and the Prime Minister in the future Constitution.

Jonathan Rugman, Foreign Affairs correspondent, Channel 4 News, started the meeting at the Chatham House saying: “I wanted to begin with a quotation. It goes like this: ‘Egypt is moving steadfastly towards democracy and pluralism. No matter what were the hardships of the past period, I see it as the pain of birthing the new Egypt. It is truly the dawn of the new Egypt’. I suspect that some of these speakers here might have come up with that quotation themselves but in fact it was Mohamed Morsi speaking one year ago, just as he was controversially finishing off – I say he personally, but the constitution that he was ushering in was being finished.

Rugman enquired, “The first is whether this constitutional drafting committee is the mirror image in reverse of the constitutional drafting committee of last year. In other words, will it make the same sort of mistakes that the last constitution made, veering perhaps in a secular direction as opposed to an Islamist direction? The second and bigger question, I think, is whether this process will lead to stability, whether it will promote investment and growth and, above all, lead to the economic wellbeing of Egyptians themselves.”

Among the speakers, there were Mohamed Salmawy, a prolific Egyptian writer, president of the Egyptian Writers’ Union and is now the official spokesman of the constitutional drafting committee. Mona Zulficar is vice-president of the constitutional drafting committee. Ambassador Shaker, is a very distinguished diplomat, served as ambassador to the UK for Egypt and to Austria.

Constitution-making body
Mona Zulficar said at a meeting held at IISS, 50 members of the Constitution-making committee “came from different backgrounds. We have been listening suggestions from civil societies, from inside and outside putting their stand writing their words. Legal experts from all over the worlds. Each Egyptian feels one of the main issues lays foundation for democracy; we have decided a political system that is mixed parliamentarian and presidential. It will be well-balanced – checks and balances.”

She also mentioned about women’s rights Poor women respecting the quality – social and cultural rights as women are influential force of the society and respected in the parliament and civil societies. Focus on decentralization.

Nature of the Constitution
About the nature of the Constitution, Mohamed Salmawy, said, “We are definitely trying to write a constitution that is democratic, that is constitutional, that is modern – that is futuristic, if you like. There’s no denying that. But in so doing, we are not trying to rid Egypt of all that is religious or national or whatever came into the old constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood. We were against that constitution because it laid the foundation for a religious state, which nobody in Egypt wanted – or at least, the vast majority of people in Egypt didn’t want. What we are doing now is the opposite. But again, as I said, in so doing we are not limiting ourselves to like-minded people only. We have the representatives of political Islam in the committee.”

Islamist in the Constitution-making Committee
About Islamist in the constitution-making body, Salmawy said, “There was one – and why do we have one, why did we start with one? It is because all the political Islam parties have been asked to nominate their candidates for the committee; the Muslim Brotherhood and all the others refused, except for one party – al-Nour, a Salafi party, which represented its candidate.”

There is only one Islamist party – the Salafist Nour Party.

Modern Democratic state
Mohamed Salmawy also said at the Chatham House, “There is no modern state in the world which accepts to have religion meddled with politics. This is what we’re trying to do in our constitution. If you have accepted that for yourselves, I don’t see why you should chastise us for trying to do the same thing. We want to have a modern state. We want to move forward, to use your own words, and to move forward into the 21st century have to adopt all the principles of modernity – at the basis of which is that separation between religion and politics.”

Freedom of Expression
Mohamed Salmawy said, “There is total acceptance of and condoning and guarantee of all freedom of expression in all its forms. We have laid out four types of freedom: freedom of the press, freedom of artistic and literary creation, freedom of faith – of course, that comes first – and freedom of scientific research.”

Mona on Constitutional Process present and previous
Speaking about the differences between the present constitutional process and the previous one, Mona Zulficar said at the Chatham House, “There are inherent differences between this process and the previous constitutional process. One, in the previous process the constitutional committee was controlled by a vast majority – more than two-thirds majority – of a single political current: political Islam. In fact, at the end of the day, when they had a difference of opinion and they put it to a vote, they got their way. So any minority representation was really for no use. That’s why all the minority representation withdrew from the process before it ended. Number one. In this case, we do not have a controlling trend in our committee.”

“We have 50 from all walks of life who have been selected by institutions like syndicates, like non-governmental organizations, like cultural councils, like social institutions and political institutions. No majority controls anything. So we don’t have a critical mass that runs the show. This is, of course, a good thing, because you have a representative group, but at the same time it’s a challenge to reach consensus. This is number one. Number two, in the Brotherhood’s constitution they had banned the leaders of the previous regime – the NDP (National Democratic Party), the [Hosni] Mubarak regime – from exercising political rights for 10 years, in the constitution itself. We are not doing that. We are not going to deprive any Egyptian citizen from his or her political rights in the constitution or anywhere,” said Mona Zulficar.

Whether Muslim Brotherhood will contest election
Mona Zulficar also replied to a question at Chatham House, “Mohamed Morsi was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. In fact he was voted for but more than 22 million people recalled him – recalled him in writing and asked him for early presidential elections. This is the Tamarod petition. He refused to put the matter to referendum or to put the matter to early elections. There was no parliament. There was no other way but direct democracy. He refused to do it in the traditional democratic way. Once, twice, three times, and then you all saw millions of people went down and said: okay, this is the will of the people.”

“I wanted to continue to say that in the constitution that we are drafting, judging by subcommittees’ product – which is not yet final, still we are working on the first draft so there is nothing really definite – but judging from the outcome, I can tell you that this is going to be a constitution for all Egyptians, that is not going to exclude any trend, that is going to respect the rule of law. So there will be a measurement that is the same for all Egyptians,” said Zulficar at the Chatham House.

Egypt has become like Mubarak era
Some people are saying that Egypt, more than at any point since January 2011, has become like the Mubarak era again. Critics don’t have faith in this process. They fear we are returning to a much more dictatorial system of government, Rugman said to Ambassador Mohamed Shaker who replied, “The Morsi system was dictatorial. It violated all basic principles of democracy, to the extent that, for example, the constitutional court was surrounded to prevent the judges from going in and performing their jobs. So what system would do this and would be tolerated or accepted? That’s what happened. They did not respect the rule of law. They tried to play around with the different instruments, and a violent example…”

“The progress is what we are doing now, is really working hard to produce a constitution, proceed to the election of the parliament and then proceed to the election of a new president. As Mona can tell you and Mohamed, the new constitution – this time the president will not appoint any prime minister. No, we will have to appoint the leader of the party that won the elections, or a combination of a coalition of parties. He will have to abide by the results of the elections,” said Ambassador Shaker.

Minority rights guaranteed
Mohamed Shaker said, This constitution would definitely be a guarantee for every Egyptian, whether Muslim, Copt or any other religion – would be protected by law.

Next June there will be election:
Ambassador Shaker said at the IISS events, “The panel are in the making of the new Constitution-of Egypt. After making the Constitution, it will be placed before the board then there will be election. By next June, we will accomplish our plan – Democratic society will be in place. While we are making the constitution there are events taking place; the Iraq situation, the Tunisia, the Libya. While we are making constitution, we have to think about the wider picture.”

Constitution for all Egyptian people
Mona Zulficar said at the IISS, “We are a group of 50; we are writing constitution – it is a constitution for the Egyptian people for all times.” She also mentioned another factor which is giving priority for social and economic issue “Social and economic rights are the priority in the constitution,” Zulficar said.

She also mentioned, “The will of the people must be represented and upheld. Religion should not be commercialised or must not be used in the constitution. It is not an easy job.”

Quota for young people and women
Mona Zulficar said, “We are considering quota for young people: 25% for young people and women 25%. We are drafting constitution that will not solve all but they will lay strong foundation and the accountable. Constitution for a country where there will be rule of law, fundamental rights  and without discrimination of sex, religion, political opinion, social status.”

Freedom of speech
Mohamed Salmawy said at the IISS meeting, “Freedom of speech is one of the basic components of Egypt. It runs through every article of the Constitution. We are also talking of artistic creation, freedom of faith and religion; freedom of scientific research giving the facilities financing its needs; freedom articles that have to do election of president, recalling the president; for the first time in the constitution adopted by two-thirds majority. Freedom which we are deprived of for a number of decades; all freedoms, equality; women’s rights, Copts, judges, judiciary every single domain.”

Form of government
Mona Zulficar replied to a question at the IISS, saying, “A mixed system; president head of the executive; prime minister is very strong, representative of the majority party – coalition – the winners representatives of the winning coalition. The President will be similar to the French system. We have building up the political party – parliamentary system. President cannot dismiss the Prime Minister; he will be very strong.”

“We have salafist in the constitution-making; we have Muslim Brotherhood; people from Al-Azhar University; Kamal Halbawy; we have Salma Yaqoob,” said Mona Zulficar replying to a question and added, “Political party makes programmes to solve political problems, not to sale or trade on religion.”

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