As the intense debate surrounding its new draft constitution continues, Egypt’s political future remains uncertain. In an effort to shed light on the contents of the draft constitution and their political implications, Carnegie hosted a discussion with noted Egyptian politician, public intellectual, and human rights activist Amr Hamzawy. Carnegie’s Intissar Fakir moderated the discussion.

Egypt’s Political Climate

  • The Military’s Diminished Role: Hamzawy asserted that removing the SCAF from the daily management of Egyptian politics represents a key step forward in the transition process. While the military still has economic and bureaucratic influence, its political role has been curtailed and that should not be underestimated, he said. 
  • One Party Autocracy: There is a clear trend toward the establishment of a one party autocracy, as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) “invades” state structures and undermines the potential for democratic transition, Hamzawy warned. He added that this is affecting the emergence of a viable opposition and leading Egypt down a slippery slope that may create a structural risk for election rigging and other authoritarian manipulations of power.

Shortcomings of the Constituent Assembly

  • Constitutional Doubts: Questions about the legality and constitutionality of the second Constituent Assembly cloud its future, Hamzawy explained. The constitutionality of the Constituent Assembly is currently under review by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which is expected to make a decision by December 12. This will likely mean the Constituent Assembly will be disbanded unless President Morsi intervenes. 
  • Unbalanced Representation: The Constituent Assembly is dominated by Islamists and has marginalized many key groups and stakeholders in Egyptian society, including women, minorities, and members of the labor movement among other groups, Hamzawy said. Also, some liberal figures have threatened to pull out of the Constituent Assembly; this contentious environment is not conducive to drafting a constitution, Hamzawy asserted. Furthermore, many assembly members lack legal and constitutional expertise, resulting in several contradictions and mistakes in the draft constitution.

Dangers of the Draft Constitution

Hamzawy argued that during the constitution drafting process the focus on political issues of today, such as the question of Sharia law, and national identity, have take away from the boarder issue and main objective of the constitution: enshrining strong institutions and creating a viable political atmosphere. 

  • Unchecked Executive Power:  According to Hamzawy, the draft constitution grants unchecked and unlimited power to the executive branch that has dominated Egyptian politics since 1954. The document gives the president a “green light” to dissolve parliament by holding a popular referendum, to oversee the balance of power between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of government, to remove public officials, governors, and diplomats from power, to appoint the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, and to declare a State of Emergency, he said.
  • Weak Parliament: Under the draft constitution, parliament has limited power and few tools to play the role it is meant to play. For example, the previous People’s Assembly did not possess the tools to oversee the military establishment’s budget or other activities; instead, this task has been relegated to a National Defense Council that will be appointed by the president and dominated by military leaders, Hamzawy said. From 2007 to 2011, Egyptian parliament had the right to amend the budget, but this has been stripped under the new constitution.
  • Failure to Protect Civil Rights: By using conservative interpretations of sharia to define personal freedoms, the draft constitution will not guarantee equal rights for women, Christians, or other minority groups, Hamzawy explained. He added that both Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood are equally responsible for these limitations of basic rights. 
  • Lack of Adherence to International Conventions: Although Egypt is a signatory to many international conventions, Islamists have avoided creating provisions in the draft constitution that adhere to these documents and protect basic human rights, Hamzawy said. He added that Islamists have used “radical extremes” such as examples of international laws that protect the right to gay marriage or legalize extramarital affairs as excuses to avoid including important rights protections in the draft constitution.
  • Absence of Social Justice:  According to Hamzawy, while Egyptians demanded social justice and a more even distribution of resources throughout the revolution, the draft constitution has failed to address these. He added that it does not guarantee adequate healthcare, education, pensions, or minimum wage, among other issues. Furthermore, although the draft allows for freedom of association and the right to create syndicates, bargaining procedures, wage regulations, and the rights of women in the workplace are still not protected. This absence of social justice creates a dangerous precedent, as it allows the Muslim Brotherhood to use the same kinds of populist reforms the Mubarak regime employed to placate the Egyptian people with economic compensation and further consolidate power, Hamzawy explained.
  • Centralization of Government: Under the draft constitution, the president will continue to appoint governors and other local officials, Hamzawy said. This gives the executive branch even greater power and prevents democratic governance at the local level.

The Way Forward

  • An Alternative Constitution: Hamzawy noted that and he and other liberal politicians and intellectuals are working on an alternative draft constitution that will be put forth on November 19 or 20, aiming to represent diverse segments of Egyptian society without challenging the Islamic identity of the Egyptian state.
  • A National Dialogue: Hamzawy explained that he is currently working with other politicians to lobby President Morsi to reconstitute the Constituent Assembly and hold a national dialogue on the draft constitution, which must be based on consensus before it can be approved by popular referendum.
  • The Seduction of Power: Islamists are well organized, have performed well in elections, and when faced with opposition have effectively branded liberals as “treasonous” and accused them of being anti-Islam, Hamzawy said. As they continue to consolidate power, he argued that Islamists have been “seduced” by their success. Unless Morsi takes a step back from being “president of the Muslim Brotherhood” and works to be a president of the entire country, Egypt may continue to backslide into autocracy, Hamzawy asserted.