Saturday, March 31, 2012

The battle over Egypt's constitution reveals the risks of majority rule

"God willing we will write a constitution stipulating the term for the Parliament to be 70 years..."

Egypt's new constitution should focus on democracy, equality and human rights, not religious identity or military budgets

Osama Diab, Saturday 31 March 2012

"....The constitution, however, is not the right place to debate these matters. The constitution's role should be to tackle the basic fundamental issues such as personal freedoms, equality before the law, citizenship and democracy. On top of this, it should organise the relation between the executive, legislative and judicial powers while setting the stage for all the political powers to compete equally and freely. Issues that are fluid and prone to change such as the military budget and religious identity should not be entrenched in the document.

Risking even further Islamist domination of the committee, the strife and disappointment have caused many non-Islamist members to withdraw from the committee as a gesture of protest against the under-representation of many groups.

Ziad Bahaa al-Din, a lawyer and parliamentary who withdrew from the committee, wrote in an article for al-Shorouk newspaper that was translated into English by the Arabist blog saying that "all of Egypt – including all its legal, constitutional and academic experts, labour leaders, NGOs, judges, intellectuals, and writers, men and women, Muslims and Christians, people young and old – […] will be represented in the Constituent Assembly by 50 people, while the MPs alone have reserved the remaining half for themselves."

The Brotherhood and other Islamist groups should realise that in drafting a constitution, parliamentary representation should be irrelevant, not just because it's temporary, but also because bigger religious or political groups should not be able to grant themselves greater rights. Democracy, equality and human rights should be the backbone of the new constitution; the role of the constitution in a democracy should be to limit, not increase, the lengths in which the majority can exercise power over the minority."

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