By Mohamed Musleh. This article was first pubilished on Egypt Independent.
To decide whether to vote yes or no to the new constitution, we have to go back in time to the moment when the idea of writing a new constitution for the country was brought up after the 25 January revolution.
Why do countries write new constitutions?The French revolution in 1789 may help give us answers.
The French Constituent Assembly, after which all subsequent constitution-writing assemblies were named, invented the idea of writing a constitution to express a radical and genuine change in the society’s relationship with the king. The French people were for the first time going to rule themselves through direct representation. Farmers and minor traders were granted new privileges and feudalism was abolished. Also, for the first time, the constitution document talked about the “homeland/state,” citizens and their rights.
Simply put, the constitution was a perfect embodiment of the revolution and the social contract it produced, one that was to govern relationships in the society for the present and the future.
Four years earlier, in 1784, America’s Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia, discussed the future of America’s states whose leaders had decided to unite. Leaders of the states decided their unity should be built on respect of personal and individual rights, balance between central and peripheral powers, suspicion in authority and the government and recognition of personal and economic liberty. The abolition of slavery, which came after the civil war, was also incorporated in the 13th amendment of the new social contract.
The processes of writing great constitutions have been turning points in the history of nations. If you want to track a nation’s history in modern times, you only have to stop and examine those points at which constitutions were written, when a victorious nation penned a social contract that would govern its society and perhaps inspire the world, as in the cases of the French and American revolutions.
Back to our question: Why have we decided to re-write the constitution after the 25 January revolution?
In responding to this question, people divide into two groups.
The revolutionary and progressive camp and most of the educated middle class in Egypt were under the impression that the moment they were going to write Egypt’s constitution was a singular moment in history when their revolution was going to be glorified and Mubarak’s state chucked into the dustbin of history. They imagined a progressive constitution that would not discuss a legacy of misery, but rather set the rules for a new social contract, a continuing revolution, a powerful people with freedom to do anything and everything.
They envisioned a constitution that would register the revolution’s anger at authority and patriarchalism and relationships of persecution in the family, street and state. They wanted a constitution that would talk about dignity, human rights and the sanctity of citizens’ blood. They imagined one that would end belief in the all-mighty state, the god-like police, and the ever- submissive people who need protection from some universal conspiracy.
The other group knew what they were doing very well. For them, the moment was not historic and the revolution nothing but a chance to redistribute wealth and power. In their minds, Egypt was only undergoing minor transformations. The structure of the constitution had to remain as authoritative as it is, somehow squeezing in the distribution of power.
The second group’s constitution ensured:
1- Gains and protection for the military.
2- Gains and protection for the new authority, including transitional articles to protect the president and the Shura Council, such as provisions to keep the constitution un-amended for 10 years, articles to isolate National Democratic Party leaders, major powers for the president, restrictions on monitoring bodies, the media and the judiciary.
3- Satisfaction of the Salafis and the popular masses by opening the door to tailor-made legislation, guardianship, and removing some of the progressive articles in the old constitution which concerned human rights.
It was only against this backdrop that I was able to understand why the revolutionaries think the constitution has been botched, while the Brotherhood describe it as a professional, balanced document and downplay the absence of proper representation of the minorities in the Constituent Assembly.
The new constitution is neither frightening nor it is new, revolutionary, reactionary, botched, or well-written. It is only a characterless legal document subject to any kind of interpretations. It is not a social contract for the future, or a dream for the coming generations. It is a settlement of scores and this is the only way you should see it when deciding how to vote.
It is closer to a partnership agreement, with concerned parties distributing gains according to their own interests.
I will vote “no” not because I reject certain articles of the constitution, but because I detest this constitution and the fact that it has defied our post-revolution social contract. I will say no because while our revolution was historic, the Brotherhood’s constitution is not.
Mohamed Musleh is an Egyptian writer and researcher. This article is a translation of his Facebook post written in Arabic.