Analysis: New Egypt draft Constitution to cement military regime in power

The constitution seems to fit relatively well with Western and Israeli interests in seeing the continued crackdown against Islamists and less emphasis on Islam.

December 3, 2013 20:11
3 minute read.
Egypt's Army Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meeting with Russian delegation in Cairo, Nov 14.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)


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Egypt’s constituent assembly on Tuesday forwarded a draft constitution to interim President Adly Mansour that it had finalized two days earlier.

Mansour is expected to approve the text and call for a referendum in January.

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“The government needs a few weeks to prepare for the referendum, so we are talking about the first or second week of January, but not much earlier,” Ahram Online quoted a government source as saying.

The Egyptian website quoted another source from the Ministry of Information as saying that the state-run media would work hard to “encourage people to vote in favor of the new constitution.”

As part of this effort, “we are planning to host several members of the drafting committee and several activists during many programs on all the channels of Egyptian TV to explain why this constitution could help achieve progress for all Egyptians.”

The fact that the militarybacked regime, led by Gen.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is trying to rush through a constitution banning religious parties signals that the constitution will serve to solidify the new regime’s hold on power – removing the main opposition camp from the political map.

The government has been ruthlessly cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamic terrorists in Sinai since the ousting of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July.

The completion of the draft is a major milestone in the army’s political roadmap.

The 50-member assembly that Mansour had selected was mainly composed of liberals and leftists. Its chairman was Amr Moussa, a former Arab League secretary-general and candidate for the presidency.

According to the document, military courts may try civilians in a range of crimes related to the army, including direct assaults on military facilities, camps, military areas, borders, military equipment and vehicles.

In addition, citizens have the right to organize public meetings and all forms of peaceful protests, though they must notify the authorities and gain their approval.

Hence, the new constitution would provide justification for the continued army crackdown on the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups opposing the current regime. And it could be used to ban protests that the regime does not want.

In effect, we are witnessing the reemergence of a military led regime, as Egypt had under rulers such as former president Hosni Mubarak.

For Israel and the West, the constitution seems to fit relatively well with their interests in a continued crackdown against Islamists and a reduced emphasis on Islam.

Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post that he does not think we are back to square one in Egypt, but in a transitory period.

“There will be an ongoing struggle about the different articles of the constitution.

And I don’t believe that Sisi is the equivalent of Mubarak in that sense,” Rabi said. “Limiting the opposition and dealing with fundamentalists is part of Sisi’s politics of survival. But in order to improve his chance for survival, he will also have to consider the voice of civil society as it has expressed itself in post-Mubarak and post-Morsi Egypt.”

Rabi pointed out that the constitution has to meet the expectations of many different groups in society, and that the public may be a more important player than it was in the past. He sees the regime as acting differently than previous governments, in that it cannot ignore the will of the people.

“A new political culture is in the making. In a way, this applies to every Middle Eastern state, although in each state the game is played in a different way,” he said.

Prof. Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told the Post that the main weak point about the new constitution is not its content, but the way in which it was constructed.

It was written within the context of a raging political struggle between the militarybacked government on one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood and some Salafis on the other, Meital said. Instead of serving as a form of inclusion, the process served as a form of exclusion, he said, thus lacking the necessary ingredients to curb the deepening split in Egyptian society.

“The coming elections could intensify the struggle between the opposing sides,” Meital said, adding that “despite the rhetoric of the supporters of the new constitution, Egypt’s road to stability looks difficult and long.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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