Egypt’s constitutional disorder

Ursula Lindsey writes: The divisive constitution that the Muslim Brotherhood pushed through last year — over howls of indignation from the opposition — was one of the great mistakes of the Islamist organization’s short time in power. The Brothers and other Islamist parties were determined to give the country a more Islamic charter, and in doing so they ran roughshod over the concerns of many non-Islamists and their own promises of inclusiveness.

Last year’s constitution was suspended when President Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the army on July 3 after mass protests. The interim government appointed a 10-person legal panel to amend the charter, and now a 50-person committee is revising it further. They have two months to produce a new document, which will be put to a national referendum.

Egypt’s current authorities say they want to correct the Brotherhood’s mistakes and produce a truly representative, inclusive national charter. But some of the ways this constitution is being written inspire a sense of déjà vu.

The constitution drafted by the Islamist-dominated assembly was socially conservative and contained provisions that extended the role of Islam and the purview of religious institutions in public life. It seemed to open the door to the state and regular citizens enforcing a particular interpretation of Islamic values and behavior.

Much of that — except for an introductory article stating that “the principles of Islamic Shariah” are the basis of Egyptian law — is likely to be scrapped. There is also talk of reinstituting the ban on religious parties that existed under President Hosni Mubarak.

This is where the similarity between the previous and the current constitution-writing process lies: Both reflect and enshrine a particular imbalance of power rather than trying to represent the aspirations of all citizens.

The last assembly was drawn overwhelmingly from Islamist parties that had just performed well at the polls. Non-Islamists didn’t have the numbers to exercise veto power and complained about their marginalization; eventually almost all of them withdrew. The new drafting committee looks like a photo negative of the old one: It contains a single delegate from an Islamist party, and he has already walked out in protest over being ignored. [Continue reading…]

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