Egypt’s flawed attempt at a Constitution

Egypt’s flawed attempt at a Constitution

A country’s Constitution determines the way its state and system of government is organized. The more enveloping these basic documents are in terms of the rights of individuals and minorities, the more advanced they are considered to be. The more they aim to represent the specific interests, beliefs or ideological orientations, on the other hand, the more likely they are to cause conflict and instability.

The Constitution to come out of the Sept. 12, 1980, coup in Turkey is a good example. It was prepared under military auspices, and voted on in a referendum where the envelopes for the ballot were transparent, thus revealing the color of the vote. The result, not surprisingly, was 91.37 percent in support.

Even if an element of this support was genuine, it is clear that a significant portion was due to the intimidating environment of post-coup Turkey. As matters turned out, we have been heatedly debating the undemocratic nature of that Constitution for the past 32 years. During that period, Turkey also saw serious turbulence and bloodshed because the rights of everyone in this country, regardless of creed, ethnicity and ideological orientation, were not respected in its Constitution.

The infighting that continues as the present Parliament tries to draft a new and democratic Constitution, on the other hand, shows that old habits die hard. Nevertheless, it is clear that if Turkey is to be politically stable, then any new draft Constitution will have to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, rather than the interests of the supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Islamist leanings.

While the AKP may rely on the fact that it got 50 percent of the vote in the June 2011 elections, the fact remains that the other 50 percent did not vote for it. This is why any draft Constitution prepared by the AKP alone and submitted to a referendum will be considered the “AKP’s Constitution,” and that of its supporters, rather than “Turkey’s Constitution,” in much the same way that the present Constitution is considered to be the “military’s Constitution.”

Turning away from Turkey and looking at the first round of the referendum in Egypt over the weekend for the Constitution drafted by Islamists, to the exclusion of other elements of Egyptian society, one need not be a political scientist to understand why that country is headed for more turmoil.

Since coming to power, President Mohamed Morsi and the Islamists that back him have been acting as if they too believe – like Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did in his political prime – that democracy is merely a train taking them to their destination.

Having received 56.5 percent of the vote for their Constitution in the first round on Saturday, Egyptian Islamists have declared victory already, since they expect a stronger result in the second round of voting to be carried out mostly in conservative rural Egypt.

But with only 32 percent of the voters turning out on Saturday to vote, this is clearly a Pyrrhic victory indicating that this vote does not represent 56.5 percent of the Egyptian population, but merely 56.5 percent of those who voted on that day.

Meanwhile in the capital Cairo, Egypt’s largest city, over 50 percent are reported to have voted “no” to the Islamist Constitution. How the Muslim Brotherhood can be happy under these circumstances is not clear, unless they are merely looking on the referendum result as a necessary rubberstamp to legitimize their Constitution in their own eyes.

Once a source of hope as a new inspiration for democracy in the Middle East following the Arab Spring and the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and his dictatorship, Egypt has turned into a source of pessimism in the region and beyond with its stillborn democracy and increasing slide into another type of dictatorship.