The failings of the process of adopting the Egyptian constitution

If the constitution is approved by a simple majority of voters, the opposition would have no reason to abandon protesting the outcome and instability will persist.

The most convincing argument for rushing the vote on the new constitution is that having a new constitution will move Egypt from the transition stage into permanence and stability. True, a country governed by elected leaders under legitimate constitutional authority will shift the focus from politics to rebuilding. However, the constitution remains the most important document because it spells out the rules necessary for all other institutions and branches of government. Most importantly, it is the document that defines and protects individual and group rights. Because of the importance of the constitution, the process leading to its adoption should be deliberate, fair, and transparent. Several reasons suggest that the drafting and the vote on the Egyptian constitution will not bring stability as many hoped it would do.

1. In a country like Egypt, characterized by the presence of super-majorities and super-minorities (Muslims v. Christians, religious v. secular), the need to protect citizens’ rights becomes more urgent than in diverse societies. Minimally, given the Egyptian particulars, the constitution should be adopted only through super-majority vote, not a simple majority. A constitution passed by a slim margin of the vote represents the will of the simple majority, which is, in this case, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. It will be in the interest of most Egyptians to require a two-third or three-quarter threshold. Had that been the requirement, the drafters of the constitution would have been forced to rely on the input and support of more social groups and political parties.

2. In Egypt, according to most recent data, the literacy rate is about 66 percent. That means that 34 percent of the voters do not know how to read the constitution. Moreover, the time between publishing the draft constitution and the first round of voting was less than 15 days. That is hardly enough time for those who can read to study it and decide in a deliberate way. This means that more and more people would have relied on their political, religious, and tribal leaders rather than on their own judgment. It is unfortunate that a crucial document like a constitution was adopted through proxy vote.

Given these and other reasons, it is understandable that many Egyptians see this constitution to be that of the Muslim Brotherhood, not that of all Egyptians. And because it is harder to pass amendments, it may require a new revolution to create a constitution by and for the majority of the Egyptians. If the constitution is approved by a simple majority of voters, the opposition would have no reason to abandon protesting the outcome and instability will persist.

 

Opinions expressed in this article are the author's personal views.

About the author

Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice (State University of New York Press, 2010) and his most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam.