North Africa, West Asia

A constitutional mirage in Egypt

The constitutional draft and referendum are only cosmetic changes to cover up the atrocities of the military regime, and a way to obtain legitimacy.

Islam Abdel-Rahman
13 January 2014

“Next 4 months vital in ‪#Egypt. A referendum and elections which are open, free and fair would create stability and a platform for growth”

This was tweeted last November by Stephen Hickey, UK Deputy Ambassador to Egypt, echoing what the military-backed government portrayed as its agenda for post-coup Egypt.

A month later, the 50-member constitutional committee assigned by interim president Adly Mansour - who in turn was assigned by the military - finished their amendments on the 2012 constitution to which a referendum will take place on the 14 and 15 January 2014. Up until this point, it all sounds hopeful as Mr Hickey said Egypt is heading towards stability and growth, however the reality of what is taking place on the ground is completely different. A glimpse at events that have taken place over the past few months may put everything into perspective.

Let’s assume that the constitution will emphasize the independent rule of the judiciary; will it be the judiciary that imprison youth today for having a camera, or girls for raising balloons with the Rabaa sign on them, or schoolboys for having a ruler and notebook with the same sign? This is the same judiciary that acquitted all the police officers accused of killing thousands of Egyptians during the 25 January 2011 revolution and it is also the same judiciary that refuse to look into any cases related to the thousands of Egyptians killed by the authorities after the coup on 3 July 2013.

Let’s assume that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Will the security forces that shot journalists during demonstrations and imprison others for reporting views other than their own apply such articles of the constitution? A superficial look at state-run and private media outlets, all singing the same song, will give you a sense of where freedom of expression is heading. 

Many will argue about the right and importance of education in this draft, but how many students have been killed and injured inside university campuses across the country during the barbaric raids of security forces to quell student’s protests while the constitutional committee was discussing such articles? Or army officers giving a speech at a primary school about the “armed legitimacy” that tops any other legitimacy? A clear indication of what and how the coming generation will be taught. 

There is no doubt that the right of assembly has a place in the constitution, but a glance over what is actually taking place since July 3 reasserts the dangers of these rights in the “new” Egypt. Every protest, rally or march expressing people’s opposition to the coup has been attacked, suppressed and demonized with every possible tactic the police and army forces possess; from water canon to live ammunition. Such repression was not only meted out to Islamists, it was extended to secularists, and the imprisonment of three liberal activists for protesting against the “Protest Law” issued in November 2013 was a clear message that the military will not tolerate any group of Egyptians singing a note other than their own. 

Finally, the decision of the government to sentence any Egyptian participating in an anti-coup demonstration to five years with the potential to execute those leading such demonstrations gives one the clear message of how those in power in Egypt now are serious about protecting Egyptian rights until they have dealt with their last opponent. 

These examples are only a glimpse of what is actually taking place on the ground. From the tragic to the ridiculous, human beings, animals and puppets it seems are all under threat: from the violent dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, to the arrest of a “spy stork” and most recently the investigation of a puppet, Abla Fahita, for conspiring against Egypt.

In such a “promising” environment, there is little hope for the campaigns on the referendum; where only “yes” vote posters are allowed to be displayed everywhere across the country and aired hourly on state-run and privately owned TV channels. Those calling for a boycott or a “no” vote are being sent to prison. All this gives a clue about how fair and transparent such a referendum will be.

A constitution is no doubt a vital document for any nation that strives to have a progressive and stable political environment, but at the end of the day it is just a piece of paper. What gives such a rulebook significance, legitimacy and value is the people’s will and determination to apply what is actually stipulated in such a document. 

In the case of Egypt, the constitutional draft and referendum are only cosmetic changes to cover up the atrocities of the military regime, and a way to obtain legitimacy; not from the Egyptian people but in the eyes of other nations, who feel they need “Mubarak style” elections and a referendum to legitimize their support for the military coup. Till this fake referendum and elections take place, will we see tweets like that of Mr. Hickey while mass killings and repressive measures receive faint condemnations, if any, in routinely published statements, exactly the same as during the old days of Mubarak?  

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