By Tamir Moustafa Reposted from HuffingtonPost.com
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.