Will the rush to pass Egypt's constitution render it hollow? (+video)
Egypt's latest draft of a new constitution was already weakened because of constitutional committee resignations by non-Islamists. Rushing the document to completion could cement that.
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"They really have this sense of urgency," Dr. Hamid said of the FJP and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. "That's why they're not wavering. Because they feel that even if the cost is high, it's worth it – this is the best of the set of non-ideal options. They feel that if the court gets its way, Egypt's transition will effectively be over. If they have to become authoritarian for a few months, that's needed to accomplish their ends."Skip to next paragraph
A dictator, or a flawed constitution?
On the other hand, pushing through the constitution is also a way for Morsi and his allies to overcome popular protests against the president's power grab. Tens of thousands of Egyptians protested the president's decisions in Tahrir Square in the past week, and opposition groups have called for more protests tomorrow. But Morsi, who was elected by a razor-thin margin over a candidate considered a holdover from the Mubarak regime, and his allies believe the protesters represent a small fraction of Egyptians, and that the vast majority support him.
If the constitution passes in a national referendum, it backs up that position and weakens the opposition.
"They want a referendum as soon as possible because they feel that once they can claim a majority on the referendum, that will cool down a lot of the opposition and they can claim they have a popular mandate," says Hamid.
Most analysts say the constitutional referendum is likely to pass because Egyptians' fatigue with political wrangling and instability outweighs any opposition to the constitution, and because Morsi's opponents have little time to mobilize a vote against the measure.
FJP leaders have suggested the referendum might be held in two weeks, though it is unclear how they will manage the judicial supervision usually required by law with the judiciary opposed to the president and much of it on strike.
Morsi's supporters point out that a quick constitutional referendum means a quick end to the president's exceptional powers, since his constitutional decree will expire once a new constitution is in place and a new parliament elected. The president's opponents portray this as a catch-22: a choice between a dictator, or a flawed constitution.
'A real question of legitimacy'
Most secular and Christian members resigned from the constitutional committee over recent months. They said the Islamists who led the assembly ignored their suggestions and were writing a document that threatened minority and women's rights and opened the door for Islamists to impose their vision of Islamic law on the country.
Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, says that previous drafts of the constitution made public prompted "very serious rights concerns."
"This is a constitution that will undermine human rights to expression, to freedom of religion, that provides very weak protection for child rights, in many surreal ways that refused to criminalize human trafficking," she says.
Others have concerns about the balance of powers outlined in the previous drafts, which kept the majority of power within the presidency. After decades under authoritarian presidents, many wanted the new charter to shift more authority to the parliament.
But many of the complaints about the constitution relate more to the way it was drafted rather than the document itself.
"You can't ram a constitution down the throats of the opposition, because then there's a real question of legitimacy, and if you have a significant part of the population that doesn't feel that it has a stake in the new constitutional order, or that its views weren't taken into consideration, that can cast doubt on the foundations of the political system," says Hamid. "And then you have people who have an incentive to play spoiler."
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