Monday, April 16, 2012

Paradoxes of religious freedom in Egypt

By Tamir Moustafa and Asifa Quraishi-Landes, Reposted from The Immanent Frame 

The place of religion in the political order is arguably the most contentious issue in post-Mubarak Egypt.  With Islamist-oriented parties controlling over 70 percent of seats in the new People’s Assembly and the constitution-writing process about to begin, liberals and leftists are apprehensive about the implications for Egyptian law and society, including the rights of Egypt’s millions of Coptic Christians.

Mindful of these anxieties and pragmatic in its approach, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has backed away from earlier calls for an “Islamic state.”  Its 2011 election platform opts instead to promote the sharia as a “frame of reference. ”  Working hard to assuage anxieties both at home and abroad, the Party explicitly calls for a “civil state” and repeatedly stresses the importance of equality of citizenship among Muslims and Christians:

"Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, are integral parts of the fabric of the one homeland, with equal rights and duties, and without distinction or discrimination, and all together they must remove the injustice inflicted upon them."

Yet the FJP operationalizes this commitment to equal citizenship and religious freedom by declaring further that, “the basis of citizenship is full equality before the Constitution and the law and fully sharing all rights and duties, with the exemption of

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Brookings Stanford Policy Paper: Drafting Egypt's Constitution

Reposted from the Brookings Institute

With parliamentary elections now complete, Egypt moves to the next major step in its fitful political transition – drafting a new constitution for the republic. As the fundamental document establishing the framework for governance, the new constitution will have a lasting effect on Egyptian law, politics, and society. It therefore presents a unique opportunity for Egyptians to reshape political power, enshrine fundamental rights, and restructure processes of governance.

However, the constitution writing process is likely to be as tumultuous as the road traveled thus far and the outcome remains uncertain. Confidence in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has plummeted as the result of its erratic and unilateral control of Egypt’s political transition. And poor management of the transition has exacerbated tensions between liberal, leftist, and Islamist trends as various actors work to advance conflicting agendas in a rapidly changing political context.

This paper examines the most important issues and actors in Egypt’s constitution drafting process, with a special focus on how procedural deficits may result in substantive shortcomings in the new constitution itself. The paper draws attention to the gulf between “best practices” in constitutional design and the political realities of the Egyptian transition. Policy recommendations are presented in light of these realities.

Click here for the full report in English
Click here for the full report in Arabic

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rule of Law in Egypt: Prospects and Challenges

This is report was commissioned by the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL).  Written in December, 2011, the paper provides a snapshot of Egypt's uncertain transition some ten months after the fall of Husni Mubarak's regime. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Law in the Egyptian Revolt

Beginning on January 25, 2011, Egyptians went to the streets in the millions to claim their rights. After 18 days of popular mobilization, Husni Mubarak’s three decades in power were brought to an abrupt end. What was notable about this popular revolt was not simply the fact that the Egyptian public overcame the formidable defenses of a deeply entrenched regime, but also the character of this popular mobilization—namely, the extent to which law and legal institutions were, and still remain, on the front lines of political struggle. From day one of the protests, a new Constitution was front and centre in political debates, not simply among political elites, but also among “everyday Egyptians.” A new Constitution that would protect political rights and freedoms was one of the primary demands in the early days of the revolt, and it remains a central objective of political activists months after Mubarak’s departure.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's not a Revolution yet

By Tamir Moustafa Reposted from

Although commentators have been quick to call the January 25th movement a "revolution," democracy activists are painfully aware that their struggle has only just begun. What will make the movement a true revolution, and not merely a successful rebellion against Mubarak, are institutional reforms that fundamentally reorder political life. Constitutional amendments are the critical first step to empowering representative institutions and constraining the arbitrary exercise of power. Not coincidentally, constitutional amendments also provide the key test of the military's willingness to break from the past.

In this context, the highly anticipated amendments to the Egyptian Constitution were unveiled by the Constitutional Reform Committee this past Saturday. The Committee, which had been appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in mid-February, was charged with proposing constitutional amendments within 10 days. After soliciting public feedback, the finalized amendments will be voted on in a national referendum in two months time.

Now that the committee has released its work, Egyptians and foreign analysts will be asking whether the proposed amendments are meaningful, and whether they constitute a fundamental break from the past. My own view is that the proposed amendments, by themselves, do not yet constitute a fundamental break from the past, but they do open a viable path to further political reform.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Amending the Egyptian Constitution: Six critical articles that test the military’s commitment to democracy

By Tamir Moustafa Reposted from

The most important announcement last week from the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was that it had appointed a committee to amend the Egyptian Constitution. The committee, chaired by retired judge Tariq al-Bishri, was tasked to draft constitutional amendments within 10 days, followed by a national referendum on the proposed amendments within two months.

Many in the pro-democracy movement have criticized the scope, timeline, and composition of the constitutional reform committee. Their concerns are understandable. Although al-Bishri is a towering intellectual figure and prominent jurist known for his outspoken criticism of the regime, the rest of the committee is far less notable. More importantly, the military has clearly excluded representation from those groups that organized the January 25th democracy movement and indeed from almost all political trends, not to mention the fact that there is not a single woman appointed to the committee.

Pro-democracy activists are justifiably concerned that piecemeal changes in the form of constitutional amendments will be insufficient to engineer a fundamental reordering of the political system. Long-time human rights advocate Bahieddin Hassan echoes the apprehension of many others when he argues that, “What is needed now is to scrap the existing constitution and not to amend it. No amendments, however extensive, would be enough to salvage it because the philosophy and spirit of the constitution are diametrically opposed to democratic values and human rights. The present constitution can only encourage despotism.”

But as I argued in a previous post, the suspended constitution contains a curious mix of liberal and illiberal articles. Of the 211 articles in the Egyptian constitution, perhaps only a dozen are fundamentally illiberal, and these are easily identified. Moreover, many of the political liberties that the democracy movement want to see enshrined in a new constitution are already present in the suspended constitution. The more intractable legal conundrum facing Egypt is that most of the legal tools that the Mubarak regime used to dominate the political system are not found in the constitution. They are instead contained in the web of illiberal legislation that governs virtually all aspects of political and social life.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Anti-Authoritarian Revolution and Law Reform in Egypt: A Jadaliyya E-Roundtable

An E-Roundtable with Hussein Agrama, Asli Bali, Samera Esmeir, and Tamir Moustafa Reposted from

Since the Mubarak presidency ended on February 11, 2011, the debate has shifted from how—or if—to amend the existing Egyptian constitution to how to replace/rewrite it. What, in your opinion, are the consequences of the suspension of the constitution to consolidating the gains and advancing the protesters’ aspirations for a post-authoritarian political order in Egypt?

TAMIR MOUSTAFA: Replacing the constitution was one of the central demands of pro-democracy activists. On the one hand, this suspension facilitates political reforms outside of the narrow procedures that were set out in the constitution. But this route forward also places the military outside of any legal framework. Amendments to the constitution are dependent on the military’s good will – something that we cannot take for granted. And even if Egypt proceeds towards free and fair elections, the military’s direct entry into political life will likely haunt the Egyptian political system for years to come. A similar tension between political expediency and democratic representation casts a shadow on the constitutional reform committee that was established by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. This committee is staffed mostly by jurists with legal expertise, but makes almost no attempt to represent various political trends. This is obviously objectionable from the standpoint of democratic representation, and it clearly undermines the legitimacy of the process. The only potential benefit of this route forward is the possibility that amendments to the constitution can be adopted more swiftly than they would if the whole constitution were rewritten. But meaningful amendments are dependent on the military’s willingness to make a genuine break from the past – and this is anything but certain at this point.