The Middle East Channel

Egypt’s interim president begins forming government

Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour began forming a government Tuesday, naming a new prime minister and vice president. Mansour has appointed liberal economist and former Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president in charge of foreign affairs. The appointments were followed by an announcement that cabinet posts would be offered to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and to the Salafist Nour Party. The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected the offer with one official asserting, "We will never take part in any cabinet as long as Morsi is not back as president." Beblawi said he would meet with liberal politicians to begin selecting ministers and said he recognized he would not get unanimous approval. The downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been welcomed by some Gulf states. On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered Egypt's interim regime $8 billion in assistance to prop up the transitional government. The pledge underscores a regional contest for influence as Qatar and Turkey have financially and diplomatically supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The United States provides $1.5 billion in assistance to Egypt annually. However, the U.S. administration may consider suspending funding if the military takeover in Egypt is deemed a coup d'état.

Syria

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, announced Tuesday that Moscow has evidence of sarin nerve gas used in an attack in Syria likely carried out by rebel fighters. According to Churkin, the analysis came after an investigation requested by the Syrian government into an attack in Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo, on March 19. He said crudely manufactured sarin gas was delivered by an unguided crudely made missile, not the sort that would have been used by the Syrian military. Churkin said that samples taken by the Russian investigators were handed over to the United Nations. The findings contradict conclusions made by Western countries, including the United States and France, that the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. In June, a U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry concluded there was reasonable evidence that "limited quantities of toxic chemicals" had been used in four attacks, including in Khan al-Assal. However, the U.N. team has not been allowed access into Syria. Both the Syrian government and opposition fighters have denied using chemical weapons.  

Headlines

  • Morocco's Istiqlal party, the second largest party in the parliament, has withdrawn from the coalition government over planned cuts in food and energy subsidies.
  • Two people have been killed and six others wounded in an attack late Tuesday on a security checkpoint in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
  • Iran has launched a "national email service" requiring all citizens to register, however the plan may not materialize if President Elect Rouhani takes a softer line on censorship.

Arguments and Analysis

What Algeria 1992 can, and cannot, teach us about Egypt 2013' (Hicham Yezza, Open Democracy)

"The key and lasting parallel between the Algerian scenario and the Egyptian one relates to the moral cost of military usurpation of the democratic process. Cancelling elections, like deposing elected leaders, is a deeply wounding experience for a nation's sense of collective self, because it seems to reaffirm, however implicitly, that one segment of the population has a higher moral claim to have its vision, aspirations and desires taken seriously than any other.

As such, it fatally undermines the very social contract and national settlement that forms the basis of any cohesive, popular revolution. I am thinking here of the sense of utter alienation felt by many of those who had voted for the FIS, many of them first time voters after 30 years of abstention, who discovered their country's future was run with only one section of its citizenry -- the ‘good', ‘responsible', ‘acceptable' Algeria  -- in mind.

And we see this today in Egypt: while those who support Morsi's ouster are routinely portrayed as authentically representative of the Egyptian revolution and popular will, those who oppose it, no matter how numerous, are reflexively described as mere ‘Morsi or MB supporters'.

While many of those supporting the coup claim it was a painful option, the spectacle of air shows over the skies of Cairo and helicopters flying Egyptian flags over Tahrir in celebration can only deepen the sense of anger and betrayal felt by the millions of Egyptians who felt there was nothing to celebrate."

Egypt's Fault Lines, and its Cartoons' (Jonathan Guyer, The New Yorker)

"The cartoonists of Egypt have been as divided as the rest of the country about the military's removal of President Mohamed Morsi from power on July 3rd.

Until recently, cartoonists at independent newspapers were not shy in depicting the excesses of the military; Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared as bumblers. In the past week, though, they have been supporting the military, which has arrested dozens of Islamists, with images of Brotherhood cadres armed to the teeth, defying military authority and inciting violence.

To take one example: in January, 2013, the Al-Masry Al-Youm cartoonist Doaa El-Adl drew Morsi at a podium alongside a blank speech bubble that dwarfed him in size. This week, El-Adl repurposed the same cartoon -- with the speech bubble packed with firearms and a grenade.

The cartoonist Shafik Salah said by phone that editors at Freedom and Justice, the daily newspaper of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, ‘aren't in prison, but they don't have a place' to work -- the offices were shut down by the military. The paper has shrunk from fourteen to eight pages, and editors are also recycling cartoons. In one of Salah's cartoons from April, republished this week, a white bird (labeled ‘the revolution') pops a hole in Mubarak's floating device, marked ‘the counterrevolution.' In a cartoon by Hazem Wahba -- published twice this week -- a mustached man says, to his two bearded friends, ‘Hold out and be strong, brothers. I swear that victory is soon, and don't be sad. God is with us.' In the upper corner of every page of the paper, the words ‘The Legitimate President' are printed."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber

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The Middle East Channel

Another Egyptian constitutional declaration

On July 8, Adly Mansour, Egypt's new interim president who until recently was a member of the country's Supreme Constitutional Court, issued yet another "constitutional declaration." This comes after a year of failed leadership by former President Mohamed Morsi, the historic June 30 demonstrations, the intervention by the military, the ultimate dethroning of the president and the ensuing violence, much of which has left Egypt deeply polarized. The question today is whether this new declaration will contribute to lessening tension in the country, or whether it will become a new point of contention much like all the preceding chapters in Egypt's troubled transition to democracy.

All segments of society should proceed carefully to avoid further deterioration. That will require a recalibration of objectives, interests, and methods as well as a good understanding of what has happened over the past few years and what, in particular, has gone wrong. Amongst other things, those parties and individuals who are driving this new transition process need to make a serious effort to understand the flaws of the 2012 constitutional drafting process so as not to repeat those same mistakes. In particular, they should consider the following:

1) The entire framework for the constitutional drafting process was not the product of a negotiated or a common understanding between political forces of what direction the country should be heading in or even what the new state should look like. It was imposed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in March 2011, and was not amended by Morsi when he had the chance in June 2012. The result was a vision for the country that was heavily anchored in existing Egyptian constitutional and legal traditions, an outcome that was highly inappropriate in the context of a social and political revolution. As a legal document, it was also poorly drafted, which led to a number of unnecessary complications. As a result, Egypt's transition process was exemplary in its lack of vision and its illiberalism.

2) The process that the Egyptians did follow was deeply flawed. The six-month timeframe was not sufficient to reach a negotiated solution. Also, the interim constitution itself was so lacking in detail on how the Constituent Assembly should be composed that this ended up being a major point of contention and caused the process to stutter in its early days. Finally, the Constituent Assembly's own internal rules of procedure (which ultimately were highly majoritarian) created an environment in which small political and social groups felt that their views did not matter.

3) The final decision by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to finalize the draft constitution in November 2012 despite the fact that all non-Islamists had withdrawn from the process was a fatal blow to the constitution's and to the party's own credibility. Although the details of what happened require a longer treatment elsewhere, some of the FJP's negotiation tactics achieved the opposite of trust building; its counterparts were so surprised by the party's actions that they shunned all future offers to negotiate a solution. The FJP was not the only culprit of course, but having been the ruling party at the time, it has responsibility for what transpired.

Interim President Adli Mansour's new constitutional declaration purports to be an interim constitution, setting the rules for the function of the state over the next few months. It also explains in part how the new constitution will be drafted and when future elections should take place. With the new text, what, if anything, have the country's new authorities appeared to have learned from the mistakes of the past? The answer is: not much. Rather than a negotiated and consensual document, this constitutional document was once again drafted in secret by anonymous and unaccountable figures who were motivated by a desire to protect narrow interests rather than design a credible plan to achieve a democratic future for the country. Already, several political parties and the activists behind the Tamarod campaign have complained that they were not consulted during the drafting process and say that they were surprised by the declaration's contents.

As expected, the text is in keeping with Egyptian constitutional tradition. That should not come as a surprise as it was written by some of the more traditional and conservative elements from within the Egyptian state, including its most senior judges. As with Egypt's previous constitutions, the declaration is not very good on fundamental and political rights. In particular, it contains a number of classic "clawback clauses" (i.e. old fashioned provisions that purport to grant rights, but in fact achieve the opposite). In particular, article 7 supposedly guarantees freedom of expression, but only insofar as the law allows citizens to express themselves freely (very worrisome given that the interim president has granted himself the authority to pass legislation entirely on his own; see below). Article 10 supposedly guarantees freedom of assembly, but says that certain conditions have to be satisfied, without specifying what conditions. Although this type of vague formulation might have been acceptable in the 1950s (and even that is debatable), today it simply does not pass the minimum threshold of credibility for a modern constitution. What this means is that anyone who was hoping that some of the wisdom developed in Latin America, Africa, Europe, etc. will make its way to Egypt's new constitutional text over the coming period will be disappointed.

In addition, the declaration grants the interim president many of the powers that both the SCAF and Morsi had sought to grant themselves, and which caused so much controversy at the time. Amongst other things, the interim president now has virtually unlimited executive and legislative power and can appoint and dismiss ministers virtually at will. In practice, his authority will necessarily be limited through political pressure from a number of directions, but the declaration allows very wide discretion that would not usually be considered appropriate and that is certainly open to abuse. In addition, the declaration is very brief on states of emergency. It does not indicate the reasons for which an emergency can be declared, what the process is for making such a declaration, and what powers are granted after a declaration is made. Finally, and rather surprisingly, despite the fact that the declaration imposes very short and strict timeframes for the constitutional referendum and the parliamentary elections, no timeframe is imposed at all for future presidential elections (article 30).

Naturally, given the coalition of forces that supported the military's intervention against Morsi, there are also a number of other winners in the declaration. These are:

1) The Salafi Nour Party, which managed to protect the wording that it fought to include in the 2012 constitution on Sharia (article 1).

2) The military, which also maintains all of the guarantees and institutional independence that it had been granted by the 2012 constitution.

3) Judges, who will play a critical role in proposing changes to the constitution, to a far greater extent than would otherwise have been normal or acceptable.

Most importantly perhaps, the constitutional declaration's provisions on how the transition process should be managed and how the constitution should be amended are also flawed. In particular, it is impossibly short:

1) A committee of experts will have one month to suggest changes to the 2012 constitution.

2) The new Constituent Assembly will have two months to prepare a final draft.

3) A referendum will have to be organized within one month of the draft's completion.

Altogether that is a three-month deliberation process, followed by one month of national debate, which altogether is around half the time that the Constituent Assembly had in 2012. Some observers have noted that the constitutional declaration deliberately does not envisage an entirely new drafting process and that the new assembly should work off the 2012 constitution, but that will not make much of a difference given that the drafters of the 2012 constitution were themselves heavily inspired by the 1971 constitution. The problem with the short timeframe is not that drafters need more time to come up with precise formulations of the ideas that are on the table; the problem is that there is still yet no consensus on what those ideas are, or even where the table is. The assembly, or rather the country, needs far more time to engage in a deliberate and national debate on what their state and society should look like, and the authors of the new constitutional declaration have once again robbed them of that opportunity.

Articles 28 and 29, on how the committee of experts and the new Constituent Assembly will be composed, are perhaps the most surprising provisions of all, given how important they should have been and how short they are on detail. To begin with, article 28 states that six of the 10 experts on the committee should be judges. What this essentially does is create a channel through which these individuals will be able to heavily influence the rewriting of the 2012 constitution. Given how traditional and conservative Egyptian judges can be, and given how much controversy there is around their working methods in the country, article 28 has already raised a number of eyebrows. One can only hope that progressive and professional individuals will be chosen for this important task.

Article 29 provides some indication as to how the Constituent Assembly will be composed. The assembly will be made of up 50 members, who are supposed to represent all components of Egyptian society. There are also some examples of which organizations are entitled to be represented in the assembly (political parties, trade unions, religious institutions, etc.), but it does not state how these organizations will select their representatives, or how many representatives each will be entitled to. Some of the questions that this leaves open include: how many of the 50 members will be from the political parties? How many members will each party be entitled to have on the assembly? How will each party's weight be measured? On the basis of the previous parliamentary elections? Surely not, given the context, but if not, then what will be done? Also, how will the assembly be making its decisions? By majority vote or through consensus? What will happen if the assembly does not reach an agreement? The simple answer to all of these questions is that we have no idea. Finally, the article states that youth and women will make up at least 10 out of 50 members. One of the reasons for which the 2012 Constituent Assembly was criticized was because it was so poor on youth and gender; it seems that the new assembly will not improve on its predecessor even in that respect, even though it would have been a very easy and obvious thing to do.

One final point is that the declaration provides no indication as to how the electoral laws will be drafted or even who will be responsible for overseeing those elections (article 30 states that the electoral commission will be responsible for overseeing the referendum but makes no mention of the parliamentary or presidential elections). This is a major point of contention, given how difficult and controversial the process of drafting electoral laws was during the first half of this year. The 2012 constitution provided that all electoral laws should be approved by the Supreme Constitutional Court before they enter into force; that was a very cumbersome process but it did lead to significant debate on the electoral law's content which might have pushed it in a positive direction. Today, we have no idea how the laws will be drafted or if there will be any mechanism to ensure that it will not be stacked against particular political forces. That is the type of detail that would have been helpful to reassure opponents of the new transition process at this early stage.

Many of the country's political forces are already clamoring for the new declaration to be amended. I wish them every success, but there is a deeper problem at play here than just which words will be put on paper. Ultimately, they will have to overcome the deeply conservative and narrow mentality of a whole generation of people who are working against genuine progress in the country. That is a challenge that every revolution has to overcome, and Egypt is no exception in that regard.

Zaid Al-Ali is a senior advisor on constitution building at International IDEA. Follow him on Twitter @zalali.

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