Leave The Revolution, Take The Constitution

The authoritarian men who governed Egypt for the past few decades were a different breed from the deformed versions of neighboring countries. None were a Qaddafi or a Saddam. All tried to live with the pretense of following a constitutional order, albeit one tweaked for their needs. Even President Morsi, who declared himself above all laws, did so for a short period of time. There is something to be said for this history. It is a thin reed, but better than none, and it is a good start to build what Egypt needs, a system of rules and laws. “Democracy” is often mistaken for a desired end. But regular trips to the polling stations are of little value if the underlying constitutional order is rotten, as Iran has shown for nearly four decades. A good constitution will survive various trials that test the limits and deficiencies of democracy. The US is a perfect example. Machine politics chicanery and ugly racial politics did not subtract from the people’s affection for regular and unpredictable elections. The system is set up to slow down popular will. Even Presidents can assume office with a minority of votes. A well designed constitution gives spine to individual freedom and hope to the marginalized.

It is unfortunate that little attention is paid to the current “committee of 50” attempting to alter the Egyptian constitution of 2012. The news from that chamber is not encouraging, although the final text has yet to emerge. It seems that even with Islamists in the minority, the secular “liberals” are fearful of offending them. They are reluctant to issue a full cry for a liberal order that can restore prosperity and stability. Instead, they are negotiating with themselves as to the level of obeisance to pay to the muddled theories that place religion in the bulls eye of politics.  The past decades have seen a ratchet effect for a devolution of the Egyptian political order toward a poorly constructed theocracy. Piety, a virtue in the narrow confines of a man’s home, is a tedious and oppressive intrusion on the public sphere. What is needed is not slowing down the progress to a disastrous end, but a radical departure from what has not worked. If the committee continues to cave in on various articles, such as the lamentable 219, then it will be little remembered in history for anything beyond servility to the gun and cowardice in the face of the bigoted.

— Maged Atiya



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