Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Ideological Distinction in the Coming Parliament

Kharrat (L) and Abadir (R), which is ideologically appropriate if currently politically muddled in their parties.
Kharrat (L) and Abadir (R), which is ideologically appropriate though politically muddled in their current party rivalry.

From my latest article in Egypt Source:

Many have argued that Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s likely election as Egypt’s next president is an indication of a return to Hosni Mubarak-era policies. However apt the comparison may or may not be, the analysis overlooks one key advantage Sisi lacks. There is no longer a National Democratic Party (NDP), the party faithful to ousted president Mubarak, through which the presumed President Sisi can enact policy. He is on the record to neither form nor join a party through which to govern.

In its place exist a large number of smaller parties, which are in one sense a result of the revolution and its aim to diffuse presidential power. Sisi will need to work closely with these elected representatives; according to Article 146 of the constitution his choice of prime minister and the cabinet he is tasked to form must meet with legislative approval. Otherwise, the majority party will form the government.

The old NDP did not threaten Mubarak’s choices, for it was less an ideological vehicle than a means of access to executive favor. The coming parliament stands to be different, for most parties have already staked out distinct positions in electoral competition. But the phenomenal pull of Sisi is exposing fault-lines within these parties, blurring the lines of ideological distinction.

This is the joint explanation of the recent defection of thirty-one members of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) to the Free Egyptians Party (FEP). Both parties were created after the 2011 revolution. They ran together as the Egyptian Bloc in the first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections, and were equal partners in the National Salvation Front to overthrow former President Mohamed Morsi.

The article continues to analyze why the defection occurred and what it means for political life and the coming parliament. It quotes extensively from a founding member in each party, and touches also on the Salafi challenge.

From the conclusion:

But until the political situation stabilizes, there is little likelihood of ideology coming to the forefront of campaigns. With the Brotherhood sidelined, the question of religion is largely replaced by the question of Sisi, and his discourse of security and stability. Should he win, the interplay between him parliament may determine whether or not the decay of ideological distinction continues.

Please click here to read the full article at Egypt Source.

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.

Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

An Unnecessary Constitution

The word in Arabic, dostour, means constitution
The word in Arabic, al-dostour, means ‘the constitution’

From my recent article on Arab West Report:

The new Egyptian constitution was unnecessary from the start, says Ragy Sulayman of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP). The 1971 constitution, with added amendments, would have served just fine.

Sulayman is the founding lawyer who brought the liberal FEP into existence following the January 25 revolution. A member of the party’s political office, he also heads its legal and constitutional committees. Though the FEP declined participation in writing the constitution in protest of the lack of sufficient women and Coptic representation, they actively opposed the final draft. Rather than delving into the problems of content, Sulayman preferred to describe how the process was flawed from the beginning.

The basic problem is that though nearly all segments of society agreed on the need for a new constitution following the success of the revolution, there was no unified justification for why. This lack of consensus would come to polarize the political scene, made worse by the initial decisions of the suddenly ruling military council.

His main critique of the text of the constitution is interesting, for he does not take aim at its increased religious language but its virtual replication of the old system:

Once formed, however, the Constituent Assembly proved uncreative and unprepared to write a new constitution. First of all, they failed to conduct any social studies to determine the problems of the Egyptian people and take them into account. But second of all, the new draft largely patterned itself off the 1971 constitution, often using the exact same wording. The only significant divergence, which Sulayman admits as substantial, is the transformation from a presidential system of government to a parliamentary.

Even the religious aspects of the constitution do not represent a radical change in parliamentary procedure. Watching the Muslim Brotherhood’s majority Freedom and Justice Party deal with recent legislation concerning Islamic bonds, it is clear they intended the Azhar to play only a consultative role when the Supreme Constitutional Court is brought a case. Sulayman agrees with this interpretation, actually, though the Azhar has insisted on prior review. But parliamentary procedures under the old system also called for sharia-compliant legislation, with a designated committee to seek the opinion of the Azhar on relevant draft laws. Even the controversial Article 219, defining the principles of sharia, does not significantly alter the system.

This convinces Sulayman the increased religious language of the constitution was mainly a campaign tool – coupled with efforts to convince the population of a yes vote for ‘stability’ – to ratify the document by referendum. A rushed process hammered through a flawed constitution to a population misled by propaganda. The Egyptian people were denied a chance to achieve a national charter worthy of their aspirations.

Elsewhere Sulayman takes note of a significant divergence from the old system, in which a mixed presidential-parliamentary system replaces the former presidential.

Overall his critique seems fair, but if the 1971 constitution would have been fine, why does he criticize the new draft patterning off of it? Especially if he approves (seemingly) of the new governing relationship between president and parliament?

I suppose it is due to the hodge-podge nature in which everything was done, but please click here for the full article on Arab West Report and decide for yourself.