Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Sayyid Hegab: Writing the Preamble to Egypt’s Constitution

Sayyid Hegab

From my recent article at Arab West Report, continuing a series on the committee which rewrote Egypt’s constitution:

The quip often attributed to Otto van Bismarck may apply to Egypt’s constitution: Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them made. Recent articles in this series attempt to do just that; peel back the layers to watch how certain articles came to be.

But the quip does not apply as well to the preamble of the constitution, for this was largely the work of one man. Sayyid Hijāb, the esteemed Egyptian poet and winner of the 2013 State Appreciation Award in Literature, described the process.

Hegab describes his oppositional past as a possible reason he was chosen for membership in the Committee of Fifty, and then how he came to be given the preamble:

Eventually the committee agreed to authorize Hijāb and Fadl to write alternate preambles, though Hijāb consulted also with Salmāwi and Bishop Antonius, who represented the Coptic Catholic Church. After about a month both submitted their drafts, and Fadl’s was roundly dismissed. It read too much like an employee report, Hijāb described, while he purposed his to carry the vision of the revolution.

But tinkering with his draft went on throughout, up until the last minute. Hijāb faithfully continued in his subcommittee responsibilities, he said, working on the preamble from home. But while the end product differed from his original text due to negotiating the concerns of some—and the manipulation of others—he is pleased it carries forward the vision.

These concerns and manipulations were largely over religious matters of varying importance:

Most of this description was easily accepted, however. He modified language about ancient Egypt and its early discovery of monotheism, as his original text violated the sensibilities of some religious members. There was some objection to describing the early Christians as ‘martyrs’, he said, but this passed when they witnessed his suitable description of Islam. No Christians complained about describing the ‘light’ of Islam, but non-Orthodox questioned his initial description of the Christian martyrs defending the ‘true doctrine’ of the church of the Messiah. Seeking consensus, he pulled the phrase.

All Christians were pleased, though, by his unsourced reference to Pope Shenouda about Egypt being a homeland that lives in us. No one objected to this phrase either; perhaps some did not know where it came from, he surmised.

But the modern era ruffled some feathers, as he described it as a time of ‘enlightenment’ in which ‘humanity became mature’. Once again, the religiously conservative objected, seeing maturity in the message of the prophets. Hijāb had one conversation in particular with the Grand Mufti, in which he assured him the terms were common in the social sciences as descriptions of the developing world. The mufti was satisfied enough in the end, and the language stayed.

Hijāb proved flexible when he originally intended to describe the ‘sharī‘ahs’ of human rights documents, amending this only to state the constitution was consistent with UN Declaration of Human Rights. But he held ground over the objections of Salafis toward language describing the Egyptian people as ‘the sole source of authority’. These references came in Hijāb’s second section of the preamble in which he described the principles of the revolution and the basics of political vision.

Salafis view God alone as possessing authority, but they received a different goal in the end. After long discussions about defining the role of sharī‘ah within the body of the constitution, they won its mention in the preamble, defining interpretation according to the collected rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Here the poetic vision of Hijāb’s text is broken, for this reference even contains a footnote, saying these rulings are to be deposited in the official minutes. Hijāb did not intend for sharī‘ah to be mentioned in the preamble at all, finding its place in Article 2 to be sufficient.

But perhaps the Salafis received a bit more, though for whose benefit cannot be said securely. The reference to sharī‘ah was won through negotiation, but Hijāb believes a second late change came through manipulation. Salafis were strong, though not alone, in arguing against reference of Egypt as a civil state. In the end a compromise was won to declare Egypt had civil governance, and this is reflected in the official draft Hijāb submitted for the final vote. But at its reading, ‘Amr Mūsa spoke ‘civil government’ in its place, and Hijāb believes it was deliberate. In any case, though he and Bishop Antonius objected, it entered the record as the preamble was voted on and approved unanimously.

Please click here to read the preamble (and constitution) in its entirety, and here to read the full article at Arab West Report.


Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Naguib Abadir: The Experience of a Reserve Member in the Constitutional Committee

Naguib Abadir
Naguib Abadir

From my recent article in Arab West Report, continuing a series of interviews with members of the committee which wrote the constitution. Abadir is a founding member of the Free Egyptians Party, and was selected to participate as a stand-by member in case of possible resignations. But he was far more active than that:

Within his own subcommittee, Abādīr related he was free to influence the discussions, lobby, and explain his viewpoints. He never felt like a second class citizen. He was present at the internal voting of the subcommittee, and witness to the early contentious debates on Egypt’s identity issues.

‘Early’ debates, because midway through the process the reserve members were sent home. He complained to no avail, but provided insight as to the process of these contentious debates, which were eventually decided long after he left:

Abādīr explained that this liberal majority did not want Egypt defined in light of religion. They desired a civil state that had nothing to do with religion, dealing with citizens irrespective of their beliefs. They tried to insert this word ‘civil’ into Article 1, but met stiff resistance from the Azhar representatives and the Nour Party. Ten were in favor and only four against, but the word was removed. Later on it was attempted to be put into the preamble, but again the Azhar and Nour Party objected, so it was substituted for ‘civil government’, rather than a ‘civil state’. This was done in conjunction with removing language that placed Egypt as part of the Islamic ummah, which has ideas pointing toward a caliphate, and instead listing it as part of the Islamic ‘world’.

In Article 2 Abādīr stated his group wanted to make sharī‘ah ‘a’ source of legislation, removing the word ‘the’ that had been changed by President Sadat in 1980. ‘Everyone’, he said, thought this article should be phrased differently, but they decided to leave it unchanged. ‘Responsibly so,’ he commented, for in the charged atmosphere Egypt is in any adjustment would cause more trouble than it was worth.

So when the internal subcommittee vote proceeded, Abādīr expected it to pass unanimously among all fourteen members present. It did not. Zarqā’ of the Nour Party objected, and said he would support it only in conjunction with Article 219, which in the 2012 constitution provided a specific interpretation of the principles of sharī‘ah. This was somewhat out of order, Abādīr said, because their subcommittee was only tasked with discussing the first fifty or so articles of the 2012 text. But having brought it in, the committee immediately threw it out. Eventually the committee would semi-compromise in the preamble by leaving the interpretation of sharī‘ah bound by the collected rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court. These, Abādīr said, rely on the sharī‘ah only where no scholars disagree, leaving the principles of sharī‘ah to equal the broad principles of humanity.

But the earlier resistance to Article 219 prompted Zarqā’ to leave the committee entirely – on health grounds, as reported in the press. The Nour Party did not withdraw from the committee, but substituted Ibrahim Mansour in his place. But Abādīr had a different take on these ‘health’ reasons. He stated that Zarqā’ said when he saw us he felt he wanted to throw up, that we were nauseating, and these were the exact words of his declaration. He felt that we were insulting all his beliefs. Mansour, he said, was more diplomatic in his listening, though their opinions were the same.

But in his absence the subcommittee discussed Article 3. Previously this article gave Christians and Jews the right to refer to their own ‘sharī‘ah’ in matters of personal affairs, religious rites, and leadership selection. Abādīr said liberals wanted to change it to state ‘non-Muslims’, but the Azhar representatives would not accept this, as it would open up rights for religions not recognized in Islam. Though the internal vote was ten to three, above the target threshold of 75 percent, they failed.

Article 4 of the 2012 constitution dealt with the Azhar, which became Article 7 in the new charter. Here there was unanimity with the Azhar, for all wanted to remove the previous stipulation stating the opinion of the institution had to be taken in all matters of legislation that might concern sharī‘ah. Otherwise, Egypt might find itself in the Iranian model in which the mullahs have a say in every law.

In most of the other articles discussed in the subcommittee, Abādīr stated, there was general consensus. Only on these first four did contention arise, prompting Mūsa to take them away and basically ignore the work and the votes of the subcommittee.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.


My Egyptian Run-Off Election Prediction

To open, and to be clear, I have no idea who will win this election. Both Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsy took about equal shares in the first round, the revolutionaries are divided between them and many are boycotting, and who knows what the average Egyptian wants, or if he chooses to vote at all.

Of course, this is simply the difficulty from the polling perspective. Things are equally unclear about the suspicions of manipulation. The status quo opinion, especially after the dissolution of parliament, is that that state is working on behalf of Ahmed Shafik. This is reasonable, but it is also open to other conspiracies.

So amidst this mass of confusion I will wade: Mohamed Morsy will be Egypt’s next president.

First, from simple vote analysis: Both Shafik and Morsy captured about 25% of the electorate. Running amidst many other candidates, it is fair to say this represents the natural constituency of both.

In third place was Hamdeen Sabbahi, who represented the non-regime, non-MB vote. A great proportion of his supporters will boycott, and the rest will likely be split equally between the two as their conscience settles on the lesser of two evils.

In fourth place was Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, and somewhat significantly behind him was Amr Moussa. Abul Futuh’s votes will likely go to a fellow Islamist, while Moussa’s will shift to the civil state advocate. It’s probable most of these voters also are not thrilled about their final choice, but there are more of Islamist ilk, so Morsy gets the edge.

That leaves the undecided. Actually, these might not matter at all. Turnout for the first round of elections was only 46%; it is expected to be lower for the run-off. Both Shafik and Morsy have powerful political machines, so these will probably cancel each other out.

But if the non-committed voter chooses, I think he will have more inclination to lean toward Morsy. Shafik does not have a project; his campaign is based on the promise of a return to stability with a heavy dose of accusation against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has lost a significant portion of its popularity since their triumph in parliamentary elections, but this sentiment is probably weakest (or least recognized) among the non-politicized voter. For these, Morsy represents either 1) the choice of a ‘Muslim’ president, or 2) the choice of change.

I think these factors will push the edge to Morsy in the end.

Second, no prediction is worth its weight unless it deals also with the underlying issues of interest and possible manipulation. Again, though murky, here is my best shot.

The first issue concerns outright vote fraud. In all that follows, I have no evidence to present, but only a reading of the tea leaves. I do not expect state sponsored cheating.

The reason is legitimacy. The military council won legitimacy by protecting the revolutionaries during the initial eighteen days of protest against Mubarak. They have since lost most of this legitimacy as they have navigated the transition, but their promise was to deliver civilian rule through a democratic process.

The only way for the military to salvage legitimacy is to fulfill their promise. Fraud would evaporate it. So would brute force or coup d’etat. The military likely desires to continue playing a role in Egypt’s politics behind the scenes. The only way for this to occur is to preside over legitimate elections, no matter the outcome.

Have they steered the outcome, through the apparatus of the state? Perhaps. The question is toward whom.

It is easier to guess at whom they have steered it away from. The first elimination was of strong, independent candidates. Omar Suleiman (of the intelligence services), Khairat al-Shater (of the Muslim Brotherhood), and Hazem Abu Ismail (of the Salafis) were all disqualified on procedural grounds – all with legitimate, explainable, though somewhat tenuous reasoning.

The second elimination was the most challenging. This was the electoral contest which promoted the strident partisan candidates over revolutionary centrists. It is far too uncertain to assert the military ‘arranged’ or even ‘steered’ this outcome. Yet it is reasonable they were not displeased by the winning candidacies of Shafik and Morsy, both of whom represented the major players of the old regime.

For the second issue, it is in this context the recent dissolution of parliament and likely assumption of constitution writing can be understood.

If Shafik wins, the constitution will be written under friendly circumstances, while the election of a new parliament would likely see a less dominant Islamist presence.

If Morsy wins, the constitution still stays out of the hands of Islamists, while the absence of a parliament denies the Brotherhood a second source of legitimacy. In this scenario, Islamists are even less likely to win parliament, as the people – already wary of the MB – will keep them from having a strong mandate.

A Morsy victory will set off alarm bells among many, and for those unfavorable toward the Brotherhood there is reason for concern. The presidency will allow gradual Islamist population of the general bureaucracy. A Brotherhood triumph could set a pattern for other nations, and their success could transform the map of the Middle East. The alarm for many will be that geopolitics has shifted, and the powers-that-be (i.e., the US) now favor Islamist rule.

While shifting alliances are possible, even on a legitimate basis of popular rule, my gut still imagines it not to be the case. I think the US and the Egyptian military are fundamentally averse to the Brotherhood.

This blog has done a good job at making the case why the military might not mind, or even favor, a Morsy victory. Chief among them is that it gives the military a cover for a civilian – and in particular an Islamist – to take the fall for all coming problems, natural or instigated.

A popular theory in Egypt claims that the military yielded parliament to the Brotherhood to give it just enough rope to hang itself. Indeed, their popularity has suffered as observers discovered them as a manipulating faction dedicated to the preservation and increase of its own power.

This theory can be extended to give them the presidency in order to complete the job. Losing parliament and the constitution divests them of the tools necessary to cement their control, and leaves the president to flail in the wind.

If indeed the powers-that-be want to rid the region of the specter – and promise – of the Brotherhood, this may be a far better strategy than repression.

Unfortunately, it is a dangerous and illegitimate game – if it is being played at all. The point here is to examine why a Morsy victory may be allowed, or may be accepted, or may even be encouraged.

Of course, Shafik could win, either along the lines of status quo conspiracy, or along the lines of popular legitimacy.

Parliament may have been dissolved because it violated the law. The constitution may revert to the military because political parties could not agree on the writing committee. One should never dismiss the simple and obvious explanations.

Yet even these, I venture to guess, will lead to a Morsy presidency.

Unfortunately, too often in Egypt, there is an angle behind every obvious. This will continue until Morsy, or Shafik, or the continuation of the revolution is able to install transparency as a hallmark of government.

May this day come, through the rule of whomever.

Related Posts:

Aslan Media Middle East Published Articles

Felool and Islamists, in my Home

With Ahmed Shafiq

‘Felool’ is the Arabic word designating ‘remnants of the regime’, that is, those who lost power and influence after the revolution, having formerly benefited by proximity to Mubarak and his circles of influence. An Islamist favors a system of government in which sharia law plays a principle role in determining legislation. What then are they doing in my home?

Well, they belong there. They are my two oldest daughters, aged 5 and 4. Our youngest, age 2, does not yet have political consciousness.

Once the revolution began becoming politics, ‘felool’ expanded in meaning to include those who support some continuation of the old regime, perhaps saying things like, ‘It wasn’t so bad,’ or, ‘Not everyone in it was corrupt.’

But in many cases, ‘felool’ also served as an accusation to throw around against political opponents deemed not sufficiently revolutionary, or sufficiently Islamist.

In its final incarnation, used thereafter in this article, it applies specifically to the candidacies of Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa, and their supporters.

So why is my oldest daughter felool? Here is the imagined explanation, sufficiently plausible.

The Egyptian political spectrum has evolved into basically three camps. The first camp is Islamist. Mohamed Morsy represents the Muslim Brotherhood, and while Abdel Munim Abul Futuh has sought to position himself as a centrist, he still identifies as an Islamist. Having gained the endorsement of many Salafis, he has scared away a number of former centrist or revolutionary supporters.

The second camp, as mentioned above, is felool. Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak’s last-ditch prime minister, appointed to stem the tide of the protests. He carried on for a little while after Mubarak stepped down, but continued protests in Tahrir forced Shafiq’s sacking as well. Running for president, he does not outright call for a return to the days of Mubarak, but he does call for a return of stability and opposition to Islamists, with lip service to the youth of the revolution.

Amr Moussa is less felool, having served in Mubarak’s cabinet early in his administration but having more detachment from the regime while serving as chairman of the Arab League up until the outbreak of the revolution. Still, he is old, and certainly a product of the Mubarak era. He will be gentler with diverse political parties, most likely, but still represents stability and non-Islamism, as well as a vote toward ‘reform’ rather than ‘revolution’.

The third camp says a pox on both your houses. Hamdeen Sabbahi is an old school Nasserist, which means he is a nationalist with socialist tendencies. His campaign has been advancing as of late as many voters are fed up with the above choices. They have rejected Mubarak, but don’t trust Islamists.

This is where my daughters come in. We are an American Christian family living in Egypt. We have attempted to live in the culture, speaking the language as best we can. Within this choice we worship at the Coptic Orthodox Church, and my daughters both attended preschool therein. The oldest just completed kindergarten as the only non-Egyptian in her private school.

If you tweak out the demographics of this simple description of our lives, you will find we are predisposed to supporting the felool, and to a lesser degree, Islamists.

We are Westerners, and Islamist candidates unnerve us no matter how many reassurances they issue. (Living here, we can also see the opposite of these reassurances at times.)

Yet we also see the conservative religious make-up of much of Egyptian society, and recognize the right of a people to be governed according to its mores. Islamism should not be dismissed in principle, though certain interpretations may be.

We are comparatively wealthy, having our daughter in a private school. Those who benefitted economically from the Mubarak era are more inclined to support felool candidates.

Yet Islamists are also successful businessmen in Egypt, having much support among the middle class, which populates the private school our daughter attends.

We are Christians, and rub shoulders with the Copts. This community is desperately worried about the possibility of Islamist rule, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Their oft-spoken preference is for Ahmed Shafiq.

As is the preference of my oldest daughter.

Yet we also place high respect on the values which drove much of the Egyptian revolution, and recognize the corruption and lack of representation characterizing much of the Mubarak regime. We sympathize with those who desire an Islamist, yet revolutionary candidate, and their oft-spoken preference is for Abul Futuh.

As is the preference of my second daughter.

My daughters do not know the names of any other candidates. Perhaps they simply picked up on the name their Western, school, and Coptic friends banter about, who themselves have picked up on the name uttered by their parents.

That is the plausible, though invented explanation. The reality is much simpler.

Driving about in a taxi the other day a Shafiq supporter tossed his political brochure into the vehicle. A little further on a truck full of Shafiq partisans beeped their horns loudly, flew high his banner, and chanted as they drove, ‘Ahmed Shafiq! Ahmed Shafiq!’

Now my daughters do the same, even the Abul Futuh supporter.

Many Egyptians have shown political acumen far beyond their nation’s democratic experience. Others, perhaps, have made their decision in a similar matter, gauging the preference of those in the area, or gravitating to the candidate with the greatest name recognition.

Surely, however, they have not done as my second daughter.

Each candidate sports a symbol to help illiterate voters find their preferred candidate on the ballot. Mohamed Morsy, of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, has the scales of justice. Sabbahi, the Nasserite nationalist, bears an eagle akin to that on the Egyptian flag.

My four-year-old, simply, likes Abul Futuh’s orange horse.

Translation: Abul Futuh, for president of Egypt; Number 5

As a foreigner I escape the responsibility, and privilege, of having to decide. Yet my respect and admiration goes to the Egyptian people seeking to craft the future of their nation amidst diverse paths.

At times the rhetoric has been strident, and there is sufficient cause for worry in multiple directions. Yet as we have learned much from the Egyptian people, we hope there is at least one lesson we may offer them:

Felool and Islamists may reside peacefully in the same home.


Related Posts:


My Egyptian Presidential Prediction

From left: Shafiq, Sabbahi, Mousa, Abul Futuh, Morsy

Egypt’s presidential election polls are all over the map. Most have had Amr Moussa and Abdel Munim Abul Futuh in the lead, with Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood trailing significantly.

And then results of the overseas ballots were revealed, putting Morsy significantly in the lead.

More recent polling indicates that the nationalist, semi-socialist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi is gaining, as he is free from ‘contamination’ either from the former regime or Islamist trends. Meanwhile former Mubarak emergency prime minister Ahmed Shafiq is also gaining, as he projects confidence to restore stability and take the Islamists head on.

And in the last days, Moussa and Abul Futuh are seen as reeling, as their efforts to be centrists crumble as the political scene polarizes. See notable Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem – Sandmonkey – for analysis to this effect.

Perhaps a poll off the subject, then, may help to clarify things. Though unlikely, here is the effort. Several months ago Arab West Report authorized a survey consulting five thousand Egyptians through personal interviews throughout the Egyptian republic. They sought citizens’ opinion on Article Two of the Egyptian constitution, which states Islam is the official religion of the state and sharia law is the main source for legislation.

Following the revolution this article became a political hot potato. While some Copts and liberals found it to be a discriminatory element of Sadat-era sectarian politics, it was the conservative Islamist element that made the most use of it. They warned Egyptians at the time of the national referendum in March 2011 that a vote against the army-endorsed transition would result in a wholly new constitution (as opposed to the army-sponsored amendments) which would threaten to remove the article – and the centrality of Islam – from the national identity.

It is unlikely that this campaign affected the referendum results too seriously, but in a nation weaned on identity politics during the Mubarak era, it had an effect.

Arab West Report tested that effect several months afterwards. The results were interesting, and as follows:

  • Only 36% of Egyptians have even heard of Article Two, but once informed…
  • 88% of those polled favored keeping Article Two as it is in the constitution
  • 92% of those favoring desire to preserve Islam as the official religion
  • 43% of those favoring desire for Islamic law to govern all Egyptians
  • 12% of those favoring believe it is too sensitive to change it
  • 9% of those favoring desire a religious, as opposed to a civil, state
  • Only 2% of those polled favored cancelling Article Two from the constitution
  • 6% of those polled favor amending Article Two
  • 74% of those favoring desire to achieve equality between Muslims and Christians
  • 17% of those favoring desire to protect the civil character of the state

Obviously, a vast majority of the population is comfortable with Islam as the designated national religion. Somewhat telling is that of these, a significant plurality desire sharia law to govern as well. Furthermore, a sizable minority wishes outright definition as an Islamic state.

Though ‘significant’ and ‘sizable’, this sentiment remains a minority among the ‘vast’ support for keeping Article Two as is. What might this mean for the elections?

On the one hand, it could mean the victory of an Islamist candidate. Elections are often won by the constituency most dedicated to a particular issue, which can resonate with the population and mobilize their support. 40+% of the population desiring the rule of sharia law perhaps is ripe for activation. (Other polls put this percentage even higher.)

Yet I would argue against this trend, though I am making a prediction based on the unknowns of the Egyptian political landscape, a bet on the average Egyptian citizen.

To run down the candidates, borrowing from Sandmonkey’s analysis, each of the candidates represents a specific element of the general constituency.

Mohamed Morsy of the Brotherhood represents Brotherhood interests, and their very sizable following of adherents. Still, it is a limited and definable circle. The somewhat negative reaction to parliament following the 70+% Islamist victory will hamper their sympathy vote immediately following the revolution.

Ahmed Shafiq represents the interests of old regime, perhaps the military, business and capital, and a large share of Coptic sentiment. He has the potential to win a large number of undecided voters who react negatively to post-revolution instability, and those who favor reform over revolution. Yet over the past year the nation has adopted the idea of Mubarak’s corruption and the validity of the revolution, and he is too tainted with it to succeed.

Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, the other Islamist and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, represents the general Islamist sentiment which is not comfortable with the Brotherhood. He is poised to capture a significant share of the Salafi vote, if not the majority, but also a significant share of the revolutionary vote. He is on friendly terms with Mohamed el-Baradei, who remains a hero to much of the revolutionary core. The unfortunate matter for him is that this core is generally elite. Though Salafis are not, his popularity is likely limited to the upper crust activists and does not spread to the countryside.

Hamdeen Sabbahi suffers a similar problem. Though a long term opposition figure, the opposition to Mubarak pre-revolution was basically a movement of dissatisfied elites. He represents the interests of many Egyptians who maintain their dissatisfaction – now with the front running choices of Islamist or old regime candidates. This includes a number of revolutionaries, liberals, and Copts, but their numbers are far too small.

This leaves Amr Moussa. A very unsexy candidate, he positioned himself early in the revolution as a candidate for president. He is tainted by association with Mubarak, but is also recognized as not having been a vital cog in the regime’s wheels. He is older in age, satisfying those who desire a transitional figure to guide the movement to democracy. He is a statesman with wide name recognition, striking a presidential figure. His skill in diplomacy suggests he will have few natural enemies, able to navigate all competing interests, both foreign and domestic.

Yet his greatest asset, I argue, is that he does not represent any interests in particular. Though it would be naïve to state this unequivocally, it is clear he is not a partisan.

I argue, neither is the Egyptian citizen.

The development of party interests and zeal is (probably) healthy for Egyptian democracy. If allowed to nurture without any one party taking immediate control, and perhaps dominance of the political scene, these diverse constituencies will mature and coalesce and lose the stridency marking current campaigning. This fanaticism is natural following a revolution, but it is also transitory.

The Egyptian public was depoliticized for sixty years. Though awakening, I do not believe it has been transformed. Moreover, the Egyptian personality is not fanatic or partisan. It is national, it is centrist, it is even, perhaps, accepting of the inevitability of a strong, dare-it-be-mentioned, Pharaonic figure.

If the public support for this election was not so strong, the result would likely be taken by the best organized particular constituency. As with the parliamentary elections, this would likely be an Islamist.

Yet the turnout for the first free, and hopefully fair, elections in Egypt’s history is expected to be overwhelming. If so, the average citizen will come to the forefront. I estimate this average citizen will support Moussa.

Might he be motivated by religious politics, perhaps. Might he be motivated by calls for stability, perhaps.

I expect rather his rejection of particular, well-definable interests. Amr Moussa, for better or worse, is best positioned to win their favor.

Alas, and alleluia, no one knows. This is a virgin electorate, and the glory of Egypt. May her vote be true, and may it be accepted by all.

May it be the beginning of popular and national sovereignty.


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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Interview with Abdel Munim Abul Futuh

Dr. Abul Futuh

Back in February I had the opportunity to participate in an Arab West Report interview with Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, a presidential candidate who was formerly part of the Muslim Brotherhood. At the time he was one of many. Though several candidates are still running, he and Amr Moussa, long time secretary of the Arab League, are considered the two frontrunners.

The interview was prepared by all but conducted by AWR Editor-in-Chief Cornelis Hulsman. The following are selections which I found most interesting. Please click here for the full transcript at AWR.

Egypt is currently deeply divided, including Islamists and liberals in the sense that many Islamists and Liberals primarily operate in their own circles. This also applies to many Christians. How would you be able to unite all Egyptians, regardless of their background, to rebuild the country?

First of all, your words that Egypt is divided are not right. Egypt has pluralism, but is not divided and the basis of pluralism in Egypt is political, not sectarian or religious, like many other countries. …

The Christian brothers after the Revolution left the “ghetto” [he means that they came out of their isolation] they were in before the Revolution. They became present in the Egyptian community, participating in political parties; they are present in the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and other parties, doing their work. Christians went from protesting inside the church to protesting in their community, the community of all.

The nation belongs to all Egyptians, whether they are Christians or Muslims, men or women, Islamists or they have Islamic, leftist, or liberal ideologies. This is the state of our community: I believe it is a positive and a vibrant state and does not engender any division—this expression is not accurate.

When I go in circles of course these people who are crossing the boundaries are definitely there, but there are many who are not and who are afraid and they lock themselves up in their community. How would you unify them? How would you be a president for all?

The most important trait he should have is seeking and achieving the independence of the nation, meaning that the strategic decisions of the presidency seeks the interest of Egypt only, not the interest of a specific political party, or any foreign body; the interest of only Egypt and the Egyptians. This, in itself, will unify Egyptians because it means that the icon that brings them together and whom they elected to be their leader, is seeking to protect their interests.

The second most important trait is that this president is reconciled with religion. Egyptian people, Christians and Muslims, are religious from the time of Pharaohs; they are a religious people, they love religion. We do not have extremist secularism in Egypt as there is in Tunis or Turkey, which is why it cannot be imagined that a president who is against religion or who is secular will rule Egypt. There is no way the Egyptian people are going to elect him.

The third important thing is that this president seek to deepen the meaning of citizenship, so that citizens may feel that they are equal before the law and that the basis for any Egyptian to apply for any position is his qualifications not his gender, faith, or political orientation. …

The fourth trait: When there is justice with the presence of a real independent judiciary, it will make the citizens, whose rights were violated by any means, to refer to the judiciary to take their rights. Then the nation will be independent and will grow and develop.

You mentioned on October 2, 2011 that you would appoint a Coptic vice president if you win the election and then the caliphate was mentioned. What are your thoughts on the caliphate?

What is the caliphate? Caliphate is not a religious term, in all cases it is not a religious matter, it expresses the cooperation and unity of the Islamic countries, represented by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). That is it. But some of the ultra-conservative Islamists lent certain incorrect meanings.

In addition, we are not thinking about these matters now: Neither the unity of the Islamic world nor alliance, because we are occupied now with reforming the nation. What is the value of a unified world when it is ruled by dictators, corrupted, and diverted people? Of course it has no value.

Consequently, we are occupied with building our nation, not unity, unity with who? [laughing] Weak nation ruled by tyranny and corruption for 60 years! It is better to reform it and strengthen it before even thinking about cooperating with others.

According to Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, God has given Muslims the right of sovereignty and hegemony, what does this mean?

What is Hassan al-Banna saying? Is this book written by Hassan al-Banna? Ah yes, “Who are We and What do We Want”. That is not the meaning of the verse and when God says “…you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.”

If he interprets, “You will be witnesses over the people” as, “You will be guardians over the people” and dominance too, that is not true. Yes of course, if he wrote that text… I do not know where that text came from. Even if that text is of Hassan al-Banna or even Ahmad Bin Hanbal, that text is unacceptable because God in the Holy Qur’an never appoints a person to be a guardian over the other. Never.

For more clarification, when Allah told his Messenger, the Prophet and the Greatest human being in the Qur’an, in the Holy Qur’an: “So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller.” Allah said to the Prophet that his role is to advise only! Nothing else! Not dominance, not control, not a guardian of people! …

“To be witnesses over people” has the same meaning that God told the Prophet which is to be an advisor, wise, and give advice to people, not more. The greatest thing that came in Islam is human dignity, which opposes the idea that some human being like me can be a guardian or I become inferior to him because he is a Muslim and I am Christian for example. Or he is better than me? Or he is more religious than me? Who makes him better than me? If he is better than me to God then it is between him and God! …

What kind of government does Egypt need in your opinion? One with a strong president (such as France, USA) or one in which the parliament has a stronger role?

I support the existence of a president who has specialties, strong specialties, and I support the mixed parliamentary-presidential system, not only the parliamentary system because in the parliamentary system there has to be various parties which we do not have now. Which means three or four parties competing and that is not here.

What should be the role of the President and Parliament in overseeing the budget of the army? Would the army and police take orders from the President to maintain internal security?

Everything…the army is one of the power tools like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That is why the parliament should observe all these power tools whether it is the army, foreign affairs, police, etc.

The army is not above the power, it is a tool. But how we go with this with the parliament budget? These are details. It can be through a committee, like the committee of defense and national security, media committee, etc… These are details, but everything should be under the knowledge of the parliament. That is how it is done in the democratic respectful countries.

How should Article 2 of the constitution function in your opinion? Especially since Article 2 was used in verdicts in courts where it concerns religious conversions.

Freedom of Belief in the Azhar document is not related to faith switching. Article 2 does not contradict with the Freedom of Belief. Islamic Sharia has been there in the constitution since 1971 and the Egyptian people, including Christian brothers, approve of it. …

It is settled that the legislation is done through the parliament and there is no other body that can legislate except the parliament. Legislation is done under the observance of the Constitutional Court and the role of clerics—Christian and Muslim, is only to advise and give opinions and not to dominate, to legislate, or to monitor the legislation.

What percentage of Egyptians is Christian and would you make public the figures of the number of Christians from the ID cards?

I am not occupied with the number of Christians or the number of Muslims, because in a nation that has citizenship these matters are not important. Publishing information as information regardless of the way it is used.

Wrong or right, it is the right for any citizen to obtain the information they need. It is not acceptable to hide any information from citizens. As for misusing this information to hurt the interest of the nation, it is another matter.

On May 16, 2011, you stated that you support full rights of conversion to any religion, saying the state should monitor this and not Church or Azhar. How would you guarantee that conversions would be fully voluntary and how transparent would state monitoring be?

I did not say “supervise” I said “enable” the state to protect the Freedom of Religion. It is not acceptable that if a Christian wants to convert to Islam, we ask the church and vice versa. It is a personal right. That is why the Azhar document that was signed by the Azhar, Pope Shenouda, Azhar’s Grand Shaykh, political party leaders, and myself is for the Freedom of Faith. It is not the role of the church, the Azhar or the state to supervise it.

What is your stance on the proposed unified law on building places of worship?

I am against these laws. People have a right to build places of worship. I am only with laws to regulate the building of places of worship like any other building, for instance a house, only to ensure that the building meet the technical requirements.

Egyptians do not need churches or mosques, they need farms, scientific research centers, colleges, factories, houses; but churches and mosques are not needed. None of the Muslims or Christians complained that they do not have a place of worship. These matters are unnecessary. The interference of the state in these matters is the reason of all the tension.

Read the full transcript at Arab West Report, here.

Read an article about this interview at Christianity Today, here.


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Jostling for Position before Presidential Elections

Eleven dead after attacks in Abbasiyya Square.

The condition of Egypt is quietly very concerning these days. I say quietly for two reasons. First, in terms of the Western audience, most is slipping under the radar. Second, in terms of Egypt, the nation waits for presidential elections, and the areas of concern are easily ignored if no attention is paid to news headlines and their fascination with politics.

Yet it is in the realm of politics that power is often determined. Often, I say, because once again this struggle has been taken into the street.

Reminiscent of clashes prior to the legislative elections, eleven people at least were killed recently while demonstrating against the military council. Still, the odd quiet continues as these protests are near the Ministry of Defense in Abbasiyya, not in the iconic Tahrir Square.

Furthermore, they are characterized as ‘Salafi’ protests, as the initial gathering was by supporters of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. The long-bearded presidential candidate was barred from competing at the last moment when it was determined his mother held American nationality. Current law requires candidates and their parents to hold Egyptian nationality alone.

Abu Ismail claimed fraud and conspiracy, and his followers took first to Tahrir, and then to Abbasiyya. There, they had been joined by many of traditional revolutionary spirit, looking to end military rule completely. The size of the sit-in was substantial without being overwhelming. Most in Egypt were just ignoring it.

But nothing in Egypt can be simple or straightforward. Repeatedly over the last week ‘thugs’ attacked the sit-in around midnight through the hours until dawn. As usual, the thugs are not identifiable with any particular party, but most assume some connection with either the military council or the old regime elements still clinging to their positions.

Yet this has been seen before, and the pattern is predictable. The best way to escalate a protest is to attack it. True to form, protestors have been increasing since then, and political forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood, are calling for massive protests tomorrow on Friday.

In past writing I have sought to dive into all of the different conspiracy theories to try to make sense of the senseless violence and loss of life. Perhaps reflective of the odd quiet is that my mind is boggled sufficiently after fifteen months of conspiracy that I am unable to do so and reluctant to try. Instead, the task requires description of the politics preceding the street fighting.

For months, the aforementioned Muslim Brotherhood has escalated its rhetoric against both the ruling government cabinet and the military council which stands behind it. Both prior to and following the disqualification of their own primary candidate for president – Khairat al-Shater – the MB has called for this cabinet to be sacked. In its place they ask to form the government themselves, as they reflect the majority will of the people in parliament.

The military council has refused, as is appropriate, even according to previous MB logic. During the run-up to parliamentary elections many liberal and revolutionary forces objected to the roadmap laid out by the military council. Rightly, the MB insisted on the ‘will of the people’ as represented in the results of the March popular referendum, which endorsed the military roadmap.

Yet this roadmap also made it clear the parliament had limited responsibilities which do not include executive authority. The MB recognizes this, but now translates the ‘will of the people’ into parliament composition, in which they are chief. The MB speaker of parliament took the unilateral step of suspending parliament activity as a pressure tool – since they cannot sack the cabinet themselves – and this was without any consensus from the larger body. It is not clear if he even called a full vote.

The Muslim Brotherhood is running a candidate for president, but he was the backup to al-Shater, and does not appear to enjoy wide popularity. The race – barring more surprises – has shaped into a choice between a former MB member, Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, and a former member of Mubarak’s cabinet, Amr Moussa.

Abul Futuh was expelled from the MB when he early on declared his intention to run for president while the group denied ambition to the post. He is an Islamist, but within this spectrum he is widely credited as a liberal.

Moussa, meanwhile, does not suffer unduly from the stain of Mubarak’s legacy as he enjoyed a lengthy tenure in the Arab League, away from the running, and corruption, of government. At the same time, due to his connections with government he benefits from the desire on the street to see a return to stability and is a somewhat anti-revolutionary figure, as opposed to the necessity of reform.

Some conspiracies say Abul Futuh is the secret MB candidate, and that his expulsion is theater. Others say Moussa is the candidate of the old regime, with the military seeking its re-formation through him.

And then there are the conspiracies which abound over the recent violence. Do some powers not want the issue of power decided in presidential elections? Is this the last final push before executive authority – of any stripe – is reasserted?

If so, is it from the frustrated youth who have seen their precious revolution mangled in the halls of politics?

Is it from the frustrated Salafis who have seen their populist candidate barred on the slightest of violations, if not on fraud altogether?

Is it from the frustrated Muslim Brotherhood, who also had a candidate barred and find themselves trapped in a powerless parliament?

Is it from the frustrated old regime, which finds itself on its last legs and is desperately trying to discredit the revolution and its democratic transition?

Is it from the frustrated military council, which desires to hold on to its privileges – if not its rule – while presidential frontrunners cannot necessarily be trusted to play along with it?

It is best, fitting with the lethal quiet, to put aside the conspiracies and simply say yes to all of the above, to whatever degree. There is a deep conflict over power playing out its final acts. This struggle has been rumbling ever since the revolution succeeded in overthrowing Mubarak but failing to decisively result in a change of system. Each actor has a role. As it may not result in one winner-take-all, each is seeking their biggest slice of the pie.

Given there are no deep patterns of democratic succession, it is unsurprising the conflict spills out into other means, even violence.

Yet it is the violence that is most concerning. Weapons have proliferated. Militant attacks occur in the Sinai. Suspicious fires – literal flames – have broken out across Egypt. While they may simply be the work of coincidence, the question of who is ‘burning Egypt’ has been a popular query, even if a manipulated one.

So, eleven Egyptians are dead in Abbasiyya, added to the post-revolutionary toll. Perhaps on Friday their numbers will swell further. Is more violence coming, or was the violence simply a means to increase the crowds?

Last time there was such violence, in November at Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir, it brought about a change in government as the cabinet was sacked. If the conspiracy which posits a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military/old regime is in play, will we see the same soon?

Or, as a leftist presidential candidate with little chance of victory has interpreted this deal, will it result in a military coup? Recall, these protests are not in Tahrir; Abbasiyya hosts the military headquarters.

Perhaps one day Egypt will settle. Perhaps the positive social forces unleashed in the revolution will eventually coalesce into open and transparent governance.

These days are not now. It is likely Egypt must suffer a little while longer. There are three weeks remaining until presidential elections.

Perhaps, only perhaps, these will signal the end of transitional troubles.


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Optimism from an Egyptian Sandmonkey

The Sandmonkey

Sandmonkey is the name of a popular Egyptian blogger, particularly active during the revolution. He now continues to strive to make sure the revolution’s advances continue toward greater liberty, freedom, and democracy. In one post of his I came across recently, he outlines seven myths about Egypt post-revolution that have been repeated pervasively. These, he believes, are pervasively wrong.

I obviously cannot attest as credibly as he can, but I hope he is correct. I encourage you to read the whole essay, but here is a summary of his analysis.

Myth One: The Army is co-opting the revolution/trying to establish another military dictatorship.

Reality: The army should be viewed as individual generals, and these are old, conservative, and now extremely overworked. Yes, they repeat the patterns of the past, but they hardly know anything else, and are being called on to solve every problem, both domestic and international. They are tired, want to get back to their barracks, and are more afraid of the people than vice versa.

Myth Two: The NDP/Mubarak is still controlling the country.

Reality: They are terribly afraid, each one waiting for their sins to be exposed to the public. Mubarak, in particular, will be deemed the greatest traitor in Egypt’s history when all is said and done. The NDP figures around him will not fare well either.

Myth Three: The Islamists are hijacking the revolution.

Reality: Salafi Muslims are terrifying normal Egyptians with their call to return to the 7th Century, and the Muslim Brotherhood is suffering from terrible internal divisions now exposed by the light after years spent underground. These groups lose popularity by the day. People exhibit condescension when they think the ‘normal Egyptian’ will be swept away by religious rhetoric. They know better, and should be trusted.

Myth Four: New Parties are the only way to save the next elections.

Reality: Existing parties are important, and the new ones will be important in time. But the real power is forming outside this system. The same groups that protected neighborhoods during the revolution have kept their spirit and are becoming social forces seeking change from the bottom up. Not only this, but their perspective is sophisticated, yet their existence is widely unknown to the elites who think ‘awareness campaigns’ are necessary everywhere outside their own backyard.

Myth Five: Amr Moussa / Baradei is the new President.

Reality: While these may pass through the crucible, by all accounts neither figure will be able to survive and pass muster with the Egyptian population. More likely is that a figure emerges closer to the elections, after these two have been long chewed up and discarded.

Myth Six: International forces will destroy the revolution.

Reality: They are trying, but will not succeed. Saudi Arabia and Israel are pushing hard to keep Egypt in an alliance against Iran, but Egypt is now demanding its sovereignty be respected. Their opening to Iran is not a victory against traditional allies, but rather a confidence in the new realities of the region, post-Arab Spring. Regional powers desire the old order, but it is fading fast. More likely is that the old order undergoes its own significant popular changes soon as well. The virus is spreading.

Myth Seven: There is doom and gloom everywhere!

Reality: Optimism is ruling the day. Yes, the economy is ailing, but the state of Egypt is akin to a patient recovering from an extended illness. The side effects of medicine and bed rest produce discomfort, but will restore health. Among other examples, consider how many young people, children even, have had their political consciousness awakened. They see the world differently than their parents ever did. Their voices, as they age, will not be easily suppressed.

My take: In the past few weeks I have been tempted to surrender to many of these myths. Many Egyptians and international observers already have. Yet it is the isolated, contrarian voice that often sees things more correctly.

It could be, though, that this is the perspective of an activist, one who has poured so much into the revolutionary effort. Such people cannot allow themselves a hint of pessimism, lest their personal commitment, on which so much rides, come to naught.

Yet in the greater struggles of life, victory is often won simply by defining the reality in which the struggle takes place. Sandmonkey is keen to highlight positive continuations of the revolution. The negative ones, producing his ‘myths’, are equally true. The Egyptian future may well depend on which perspective moves to the forefront.

Update: Sandmonkey may be fudging a bit on Myth One. Here is his latest post.

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Fruits of the Revolution, A Democratic Referendum – Rejected?

On March 19 Egypt is slated to enjoy its first free election in decades. Following the resignation of President Mubarak the Supreme Council for Military Affairs appointed a committee to draft amendments to the Constitution, according to the demands of the people. The proposed amendments will be put to a nationwide vote in only three days. Yet many of the voices which led the revolution are calling for a ‘no’ vote to be cast. Why would this be?

Many of the amendments reflect exactly the demands made during the protests. Term limits are proposed, allowing an elected president two terms of four years each. Furthermore, there are stipulations putting supervision of elections under the purview of the judiciary – a generally well respected institution whose rulings were routinely ignored by the executive branch. Additionally, the restrictive rules determining eligibility for a candidate for president have been loosened considerably, allowing for greater opposition and independent opportunities. These and other proposals will go a long way to curbing the power of the president, which is in line completely with the demands of the people.

Yet a ‘no’ vote has been urged by many of those who struggled for these changes. Incidentally, the referendum does not allow consideration of individual amendments; the proposal must be accepted or rejected wholesale. Among those rejecting are the traditional opposition parties – Wafd, Tagammu, and Nasserist – who have often been understood to provide window dressing support for the democratic posture of the Mubarak regime. Yet the more dynamic and loosely related youth coalitions which led the revolution have also come down against the changes. So have independent candidates for president, such as Mohamed el-Baradei and Amr Moussa.

Noteworthy in the discussion are those groups which have publically called for a ‘yes’ vote. These are led by the remnants of the discredited National Democratic Party, which governed Egypt during the entire tenure of Mubarak, and the Muslim Brotherhood, their officially banned yet primary opposition. Strange bedfellows are par for the course in politics – what brings these forces together?

While there is a lawsuit pending to dissolve the NDP altogether, there is no necessary reason why it could not reform itself and participate actively in the new Egypt. The NDP was less an ideological grouping than an association of opportunism – it was the best and easiest way to advance in politics. As such, it attracted many who craved privilege and access to facilitated business opportunity. Yet this fancy phrase for corruption should not be leveled at all its members, many of which are understood to have sought the reform of the party from within. Can new leadership purge its dead weight? Or is the ‘dead weight’ still in charge, waiting out the reforms until its network of connections and nationwide organizational structure is free to rule the day through democratic means? After all, politics and money go hand in hand; even a reformed NDP would be well versed in both.

The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, faces internal challenges. It has formed an official political party – named Freedom and Justice – but suffers a fissure between its old guard and youth. The former was cautious during the revolution and negotiated with Vice-President Suleiman when he called for ‘dialogue’ with the forces on the street. The youth rejected this along with their Tahrir Square compatriots. Meanwhile, a breakaway moderate Islamist party from the 90s – Wasat – has also been granted political license, and it is possible other trends will separate from the Muslim Brotherhood proper. Even so, the Brotherhood maintains the best organized political structure of all opposition parties, and stands to make gains in the coming democracy.

These gains seem to factor in to the movement for a ‘no’ vote. It is not purely pragmatic, however, as technical reasons are issued about why certain amendments are flawed. The major argument for ‘no’ however is not with the amendments themselves, but with the resulting Constitution.

Following the resignation of Mubarak the military council suspended the Constitution and dissolved Parliament. If a ‘yes’ vote succeeds, this will result in the reactivation of the Constitution, which was rejected by all as a flawed document designed to cement the powers of the executive branch, and president in particular. While the amendments go far, many state they do not go far enough. The revolution discredited the entire ruling system, including the Constitution; these voices believe an entirely new charter should be drafted through national consensus. These amendments, they say, were crafted behind closed doors by members appointed by the military. Though better representing society than anything in the previous regime, they do not reflect the creative, free voice of the people.

The second step following a ‘yes’ vote would be the holding of parliamentary elections. Though an exact timetable has not been promised – and even if delineated might yet be changed – these elections could be as early as June. Some voices call for presidential elections to be held first, but this does not appear to be the desire of the military council. It can be rightfully argued that a president without a legislature could become a new dictator, and at the least would have a powerful hand to guide the supposedly democratic transition.

Yet the ‘no’ party contests this timeline, stating that early legislative elections would lead to great gains by the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood, as the free and nascent political movements will not have had time to canvas nationwide. Many of these favor the formation of a temporary presidential council, composed of both civilian and military figures, to guide the nation until civil society can accommodate all candidate parties. Added to their concern is the understanding, if not promise, that the new government will indeed craft a new Constitution. While this is desired, if a legislature dominated by former regime members and the Brotherhood has a leading role, liberal forces fear what may develop.

In any scenario, neither the Constitutional amendments nor the military are clear about the next steps. All that is known is that the referendum will be held on March 19. Many oppositional parties desire greater clarity, but they do celebrate the opportunity at hand. Rather than calling for a boycott, they urge wide participation – for a vote of ‘no’. Operating under a newfound freedom, they hope that practices such as these will lead to a deepening of the democratic impulse. Even so, their fears are more than whispers, but the decision, at long last, rests in the hands of the Egyptian people.