Amr Adly: Final round of constitutional referendum on Saturday – Muslim Brotherhood constitution may pass but will not stabilize Egypt
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
On Saturday, the second round of the referendum to approve or disapprove of the new Egyptian constitution will take place. Now joining us from Cairo to discuss all of this is Amr Adly. He’s a senior researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, heading up the Social and Economic Rights Unit. He was previously a diplomat with the Egyptian foreign ministry. And he also writes for Egypt Independent. Thanks very much for joining us, Amr.
AMR ADLY, RESEARCHER, EGYPTIAN INITIATIVE FOR PERSONAL RIGHTS: Thank you.
JAY: Let me quickly sayâ€”and then you can tell me if I have it rightâ€”the reason there’s a second round is ’cause the judges have to approve this, oversee the process. There’s not enough judges to actually do it all in one go, so there’s been a second round. And one of the reasons there’s not enough judges is that something like half the judges refuse to even participate. So do I have that much right?
JAY: Okay. So then let’s get on to the constitution issues itself. So the majority of people in Cairo, but probably not the majority of the people of Egypt, are opposed to this new constitution. It’s likely to pass based on polling. But for those who are opposed to it, why are they?
ADLY: It mainly has to do with the process. Many political forces and social groups are quite alarmed by the Muslim Brotherhood dominance of the process of constitutional writing and the very fact that they, like, dominated the constituent assembly and they sidelined the liberal and leftist opposition. This is in the background.
So what we are having here is not just, like, a vote on the constitution. It’s rather a vote on the very legitimacy of the Brotherhood and of the Brotherhood-backed president.
So the context and the process itself through which the constitutional draft was written and then put for a referendum is extremely important. We have to bear in mind that less than a month ago the president issued, like, what he called the constitutional declaration that was quite controversial. And he mainly gave himself sweeping powers in a way that was very alarming to the opposition, as well as to many political and social groups in Egypt. And this unleashed an unprecedented wave of protestâ€”I’m saying unprecedented because we haven’t seen something like that since Mubarak’s ouster almost two years ago.
So within this very controversy and deeply divided political scene, the president, like, chose to run forward from the crisis by actually calling for a referendum on the constitution that was finished in the very absence of the opposition that left the constituent assembly. And that is one of the reasons why the opposition chose to urge the people to vote against the constitution.
JAY: Now, there seems to be sort of three big broad camps here. I’m sure it’s far more nuanced than what I’m about to say, but the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters who are in favor of the president and in favor of this constitution, there seems to be serious differences with those members of the elite that previously supported Mubarak, who are more secular and don’t want to live under a Muslim Brotherhood kind of theocracy. And then you have the camp of the revolutionaries who want a really democratic Egypt, and which also includes democratizing the economy. And they have big differences with both of those camps, the ex-Mubarak camp and the Muslim Brotherhood camp. Do I have this roughly correct?
ADLY: Yeah, correct. You have it right. Of course, things are quite complex, because, like, the Brotherhood is allied to many elements of the old regime. Like, for example, the Ministry of Interior has not been restructured. The Ministry of Interior, which is or which has been accused of many atrocities under Mubarak, and, as a matter of fact, even afterward, has not been structured; no cleansing took place.
Of course, like, if you refer to the other security apparati, the military, all of these are quite allied with the Brotherhood. And the constitutional draft, for example, gives the military full independence from the rest of the state, as a matter of fact. You have, like, an autonomous military economy which is quite big and pervasive. It’s estimated to be, like, somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of Egyptian economy. And according to the Constitution that is being passed now, this is going to be left totally out of sight of the comingâ€”or of the parliament in general, as well as, like, other institutional arrangements to which the military would actually intervene heavily in the formation of Egypt’s foreign policy.
So, as a matter of fact, the clauses that have to do with the military, as well as other security apparati, areâ€”actually make Egypt very close to the Pakistani case. So if the Brotherhood is allied to many circles of the old interests, that have to do a lot with Mubarak’s order.
And the other camp, the opposition, the liberal opposition itself, has allies within the old system, like the judiciary, for example. It’s quite conservative, and it has its own interests that date back to the old regime.
And, of course, like, there are other members that are not, by the way, necessarily secular. Like, ideology doesn’t play a significant role. It mainly has to do with the networks of privilege, because, like, the Brotherhood has its own patronage networks and, like, clientelistic networks, and these people don’t fit into them. So this is one of the reasons. It’s not purely ideologically.
JAY: Right. And for the workers and students, but particularly the workers, who were so much, really, the backbone of the revolution, if I understand it correctly, this constitution has some measures in it that really limit the abilities of unions and workers and such. Is that right?
ADLY: This is true. So when it comes to social and economic rights, they were almost copied and pasted from the 1971 constitution, the one, like, against which the revolution took place. And you have no clear commitments. There is no mention of Egypt’s commitments, according to international covenants and agreements. And, of course, you have all of the limitations on the freedom of association, union formation, etc. And, of course, if you put again the process through which these clauses were written in the broader political context, you will find that the Brotherhood has shown itself to be a very conservative movement and that the laws and decrees that they passed under the president and even under the parliament are very inimical to the independent labor movement and to labor rights in general.
JAY: Now, that doesn’t seem to be a matter of concern to the American government, which is giving, whatâ€”it’s something like $1 billion of debt forgiveness, half a billion in cash, I think. And then the IMF is giving something over a $4 billion loan. None of them seem too concerned about what’s happening here.
ADLY: Definitely the U.S. is not that concerned aboutâ€”like, neither, like, the U.S. government, I mean, neither, like, the democratic transition nor social and economic justice in Egypt. And it makes sense.
The point is that the Brotherhood is currently supported by the U.S., and there’s no way of understanding how Morsi could move with the constitutional declaration and granting himself, like, sweeping powers without the U.S. backing. And this itself has to do with how the Brotherhood managed the conflict that took place in Gaza over a month ago, because they simply proved that they can do whatever Mubarak was doing, only with more popularity and more legitimacy. But this was exactly what they did. And this is why, actually, they started to gain support from the administration, as well as from theâ€”like, from the Congress, because they prove to be capable of playing Mubarak’s role, like supporting the broader arrangements that are related to the American interests in the region.
But then the problem comes here that the Americans were mainly betting on the Brotherhood to stabilize Egypt. And this is notâ€”like, the country is not stabilizing, simply. We have had, as I said, unprecedented wave of protest against the Brotherhood in the last couple of weeks. The urban centers that actually witnessed the January revolution of 2011 against Mubarak are now protesting against the Brotherhood and have voted massively against the Brotherhood.
And even if the Constitution passes with the 50-something percent, like, this is not a law that can be passed or a president that can be elected. The constitution here should actually establish a legitimate political order that should be accepted by everybody. So now imagine that this is going to be accepted by almost half of the Egyptians, while the other half are opposed to it and they don’t believe that it is legitimate or that it actually rises to their expectations.
So I don’t believe that this is any recipe for stability. And in this sense, I’m not sure whether the Americans can keep counting on the Brotherhood to reproduce Mubarak’s regime, because this is exactly what’s happening.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Amr.
ADLY: Thank you very much. Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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