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Drafting Discord

Author: Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative; Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program
December 2, 2013
ForeignPolicy.com

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In the midst of violence and counter-revolution, Egypt's military-backed government is about to present a new constitution to the people -- the country's second in a year. On Dec. 1, a 50-member committee, tasked by the government with making "revisions" to the 2012 constitution, voted on the final draft and will submit it to President Adly Mansour this week for ratification. Later this month or next, the Egyptian people will be asked, again, to approve the constitution in a referendum.

Political infighting among secularists, Islamists, and remnants of the old regime has defined Egypt's transition since it began nearly three years ago, and these tensions have played out vividly on the battlefield of constitution-writing. Instead of delivering a much-needed national consensus, the tortured constitutional process has only deepened political rifts.

The Islamist-dominated Morsi government rammed through a new constitution in December 2012. That constitution, however, largely ignored the concerns of secularists, liberals, and Christians, so its adoption merely intensified polarization. The current effort has also made little pretense of inclusivity. Indeed, the constitutional committee has operated in a manner almost divorced from politics -- hardly a recipe for lasting constitutional success. The current draft is an operational document that limits some of the worst aspects of the Morsi constitution but doubles down on others. While the new constitution reduces the role of Islam, the document is still religiously infused. The revisions also enhance the already privileged position of the military and fail to enshrine important human rights. On a brighter note, the new text does include a nod toward gender equality missing from the last constitution, and also has new articles mandating much needed improvements in education.

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