Thursday, December 27, 2012

Egypt's new constitution an affront to democracy

There are many problems with the Egyptian constitution--not the least of which is that it appears to be modeled on the insufferably dull US constitution--our own little grab bag of deceits. But the new Egyptian constitution, which codifies past practice more than incorporate democratic rights, omits the one feature of the US constitution worth saving & expanding--& that is a Bill of Rights for labor, women, political activists, & religions other than fundamentalist Islam.

This queue of women in Giza, Egypt waiting to vote highlights one of the chief problems in the new constitution: although an estimated 80-90% of Egyptians are Muslim, not all are--& not all are fundamentalist Muslims. The document eschews separation of church & state & makes conservative Islam the state religion. The 10-20% of Egyptians belonging to other religions or who have no religion have rights that must be accounted for in a democratic constitution.

The document is forceful in describing the powers of the state & its institutions but bereft & vacuous when it comes to establishing democratic rights. We can put aside the sarcastic conceit in the Preamble statement that the Egyptian uprising, which compelled the writing of a new constitution, was supported by the Egyptian military. The entire world bears witness to the contrary & to the violent opposition of the military to this historic movement for full democracy.

The document lays out the rights of protest with one hand, including the right not to be tortured, but it taketh that right away with the other hand, saying: “Civilians shall not stand trial before military courts except for crimes that harm the Armed Forces.”  What exactly are “crimes that harm the Armed Forces?” Protesting where they’ve declared off-limits? Climbing over the barrier walls they’ve erected all over town? Throwing one of their tear gas canisters back at them? Fighting back when they come at you with truncheons? Would you like people modeled on General Omar Suleiman adjudicating your fate?

Vacuity marks the sections dealing with labor rights & farmer rights (there is no section on women’s rights) because the Egyptian government is moving full-speed ahead with a neoliberal agenda & will not allow rights to stand in the way.

The constitution was approved on Saturday by 64% of voters which only 32% of eligible voters participated in & is contested as illegal because the judges required by law to monitor boycotted the election. The document does not herald a new era of democracy but a new challenge to the forces of emancipation from tyranny. Our fullest solidarity with the people of Egypt in this immense & historic task. Their courage is a beacon to us all.  (Photo by Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

No comments:

Post a Comment