Egyptian naivety or strategic choice?

Egyptian naivety or strategic choice?

The last week of March 2012 brings Egypt closer to creating its new constitution. A year ago there seemed to be deliberate confusion to control and delay Egypt’s first chance to rewrite a consensus constitution.

In its stead, following a mass revolution, Egyptians were presented with a referendum on a mere few constitutional articles of its pre-revolution constitution. Without regard for the voting results, in March 2011, Egyptians found themselves landed with a constitutional announcement decreed by the ruling SCAF that rendered the whole voting exercise null and void. The first battle was lost. This week a more serious and final battle over a new constitution is playing out. 

During the initial attempts, the euphoria of bringing down Mubarak and the fresh breath of dignity and victory saw Egyptians flock to the poll stations in unprecedented numbers. The results signaled in the up and coming political Islam. Interim attempts to develop a civic consensus over some governing principles for a constitution delivered a handful of contested documents. One of these, the ‘al-Azhar’ document came close to an agreement but was not adopted as electing Parliament was prioritized. The postponed challenge comes back in full force. This time over, with political Islam representatives attempting to monopolize the political scene, the opposition threatens a firmer and more unified stance against them.

The ruling SCAF has intervened to mediate an acceptable compromise. Over two long meetings with representatives of political parties, they have issued a statement that does not seem to have bridged much of the opposition yet.

The week’s deliberations saw a contested decision by Parliament to form the committee of the constitution with 50 members of Parliament and 50 who are not. The second issue of serious contention came with the election process within Parliament when the leading political Islam party, Freedom and Justice, distributed its own list of choices for elections. The criteria for selection of candidates have been strongly criticized amidst calls for a re-election of the committee. The opposition mounted inside and outside Parliament. So far 5 parties have walked out and 27 members of the committee have resigned from it. A parallel civic committee of 100 members is being set up to produce the constitution. 

The first public signs of serious disagreement between the SCAF and the representatives of political Islam have been noted in the exchange of official statements released by both earlier this week. As the frustration on the streets escalates, this latest confrontation threatens a second wave of revolution. It poses more questions than answers. The one thing that brought Mubarak down was the consensus of all. Everybody briefly joined the same party. That is, until the first wedge was introduced.

The one-year learning process has not been in vain. At least the new comers in the middle have demonstrated a more coherent and collective body of opposition to both extremes of the spectrum, the ruling military and political Islam. “A constitution for all Egyptians” is the demand on the street and it is gaining momentum.