Morsi Must Ensure Reform in New Constitution

Originally published in Middle East Monitor

Recently, secular parties and the Muslim Brotherhood have locked horns in a battle over Egypt’s future. The Constitutional Assembly’s draft constitution has sparked outrage amongst many parties and civilians who fear human and minority rights are being traded in exchange for President Morsi’s consolidation of power.

The 20-month constitution vacuum that has succeeded Mubarak’s downfall comes after decades of military dictatorship. Now, Morsi has a chance to fill the void with a document that caters to all of Egypt’s factions, and offers an example to the entire region. A daunting task in a fragmented country of 85 million, yet not impossible.

The root of the problem is the political make up of the Constitutional Assembly, which simply doesn’t consist of an adequate sum of leftist and liberal voices. To make matters worse, only six of the one hundred people in the assembly are women and only five are Coptic Christians. Many believe that the Muslim Brotherhood overshadows other representations in the Assembly.

As a result of its shaky foundations, the content of the constitution has many critics. On the 22nd October, hundreds of women gathered outside the Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo. They had taken offence at clause 68 of the draft constitution, which promised gender equality on the condition that it was “without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Law”. Since when did equal rights – across gender, ethnic minorities, or anything else – become conditional?

Nowhere in the document does the prohibition of physical or mental torture surface, yet the brutality of the police in Egypt in part caused the 2011 popular revolt. Freedom of association and peaceful protests are subject to regulations of the law and labour strikes are nowhere to be found. There is no promise of a welfare system on the back of the state.

Tunisia’s draft constitution also appeared recently, leaving a document against which to compare Egypt’s. Like Egypt, Tunisia’s outline was also subject to huge criticism in the initial stages, to which the ruling party responded with reform. Unhappy journalists and feminists, for example, have meant that clauses can no longer be interpreted to limit press and women’s freedoms. Interestingly, Tunisia’s constitution prohibits normalisation with Israel and the Zionist entity, something that is not mentioned in Egypt’s.

Outside of this, there has been a selection of highlights from Morsi’s short time as President since he was sworn in last June. He confronted the military far faster than anyone thought he would and he defied objections from Israel and America over flying to Iran for the Non-Aligned Movement summit. Whilst he was there he criticised the brutal regime in Syria, despite Assad being a staunch ally of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.

Now Morsi has the opportunity to fulfil the wishes of voters further and respond to protests over the proposed constitution; he should follow Tunisia’s example by taking the opportunity for reform. The sooner this is established on paper, the sooner he can concentrate on repairing the many economic and social problems facing his country and his people.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in Egypt, Politics