Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Guest Post: Why I Feel Disappointed By Egypt’s New Constituent Assembly

by Steven A. Cook
March 27, 2012

Egyptian protesters shout slogans against the formation of a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution during a rally outside the Cairo convention centre (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters) Egyptian protesters shout slogans against the formation of a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution during a rally outside the Cairo convention centre (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters)

My friend, Bassem Sabry, weighs in on Egypt’s recently selected constituent assembly, the body charged with drafting the country’s next constitution. Bassem blogs at An Arab Citizen.

As I regard the final list of the 100 members of Egypt’s constituent assembly for the constitution and the dominance of two hegemonic political powers over it, I cannot help but experience a bitter feeling. All I see is another potentially glorious moment squandered by a nation that’s in desperate need of one.

While I acknowledge the well-earned majoritarian leadership of the FJP and Al-Nour in parliament, as well as their right to exercise the power that comes along with such a majority with regard to policy issues, I remain convinced that the constituent assembly and Egypt’s next constitution are matters that transcend parliamentary party lines.

This constitution is intended to represent all of Egypt, in all its political and ideological diversity. It is hoped to be a perfect document, though a constitution never is, and amendments will always find their way in by force of time, evolution, and trial and error. But it is crucial that this constitution, of all constitutions, carry the equal weight of Egypt’s entire political spectrum behind it.

First, this will be the first free constitution to be drafted in the history of Egypt. While I do accept that SCAF’s influence tarnishes the “freedom” of this constitution, the document has the chance to become the purest work of democratically-elected Egyptian hands– not colonial, monarchical, or dictatorial forces. Furthermore, the constitution will be drafted after a revolution that was the first of its kind for the nation, in which countless lives were sacrificed, and continue to be, for the honor and the right as citizens of the nation to chart our own future. Perhaps it might not end up being an entirely freely-drafted constitution, but it should at least end up being our freest ever.

Second, most of the parties that participated in the parliamentary elections were new parties that had been founded less than one year ago, whose members and candidates did not have sufficient, if any, electoral experience, and/or did not have the grassroots network or finances that would allow them to campaign effectively. As a result, while FJP and Al-Nour probably would have received the most votes regardless, the weight of such a majority could have been significantly different had the new parties been better prepared. I acknowledge that this might bring to mind the phrase “sore loser,” but I am sincere in my convictions.

The phase of “post-revolution politics” was characterized by non-partisan rhetoric and more active and sincere efforts at national reconciliation, coalition building, and group decision-making. This is the kind of politics we needed to see in this constituent assembly and in the processes leading up to it. Instead, we ended up witnessing the usual, divisive “partisan politics” wherein each side tries to get as much as it can. It was neither the time nor the place for such division. I realize the naive idealism of what I am writing, but revolutions are founded upon a degree of idealism. And, well, we actually did just have a revolution.

While there are many respectable and unsurprising names on the final list of members of the constituent assembly, I reiterate that all elements of the political spectrum should have more equal representation in the group of men and women charged with the task of drafting Egypt’s future. This was my position in February 2011 right after the revolution, it remained my position last October right before the elections, and it continues to be my position as I write these words.

And while we’re on the subject of “men and women drafting the future of Egypt,” there should have been more women.

 

 

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