Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 April 2012
Issue No. 1092
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Democracy à la Brotherhood

The blatant stacking by Islamists of the assembly that will draft Egypt's new constitution is not only improper but also illegal, writes Azmi Ashour*

The way in which the 100-member Constituent Assembly was chosen has stirred numerous doubts and at the same time it explains the concern present among the public regarding the control that parliamentary representatives will have over the process of drafting the constitution.

The problem began with Article 60 of the Constitutional Declaration that assigned parliament the task of choosing the members of the assembly tasked with drafting the new constitution. When this article was put into practice, the Muslim Brotherhood, who constitute the parliamentary majority, not only began to nominate their parliamentarians exclusively, they also insisted that parliamentary members make up 50 per cent of the assembly. Naturally, this only underscored the question as to how the nation's new constitution can be written by parliamentary members who were elected for a single term and for an entirely different purpose.

The slippery way in which the Constituent Assembly was chosen reminds one of the sets and props for studio films and soaps in which actors pretend to be real, although the director can always call "cut" and shoot the scene again until he is satisfied. The Muslim Brotherhood MPs who now dominate parliamentary committees used all the trappings of democracy to elect the members of the assembly, from the correct procedures to see-through ballot boxes. Yet was it really democracy?

Although the honourable members of the People's Assembly and the Shura Council presumably possess the rational powers and the freedom of choice to elect the candidates they deem best qualified for the job of writing the constitution, in fact the 100 members of that assembly were determined in advance and their names appeared on a list that was circulated among the MPs, who were expected to put a tick next to the names they wanted. It may have resembled a cheat sheet that students surreptitiously slip to each other during exams, but it was dignified by the Muslim Brotherhood's fatwas that legitimise whatever suits the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood, regardless of how it conforms to the values and principles of democracy and justice.

Laugh as one might at the play that pretends to pass for democracy, one cannot miss the many elements that expose the farce in its entirety. Once we grant that the process was flawed from the outset and agree to analyse it to the end, then, firstly, we must ask by what right persons from inside this particular parliament should be empowered to make a constitution. Most of those MPs did not win their seats as individual candidates running on the basis of their personal qualifications, but as members of electoral lists in which affiliation to a religious organisation or movement proved instrumental in sweeping them to power. Because this list system overshadowed individual qualifications and personality idiosyncrasies, it is little wonder that, today, we find members of parliament who more adept at producing comedies in the manner of MP Anwar El-Balkimi. This is not so much their fault as it is the fault of a system that gave precedence to affiliation to a religious organisation and to voting on that basis, whether the affiliation was to the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis.

Secondly, how are those parliamentarians supposed to chose something they know nothing about? The 2,000 names that were nominated to write the constitution were mostly known to the MPs who are tasked with selecting 100 from among them. Certainly, they should have been given sufficient time to familiarise themselves with the candidates, just as students should be given time to study before their exams. Surely there is nothing wrong with this, for the people should naturally be able to expect their parliamentary representatives to have the integrity to study the alternatives they are faced with so that they can exercise freedom of choice on the basis of an informed decision. Therefore, when it came to light that a paper was circulated containing the 100 names that would be chosen, that signified not only that the free will of the members of both houses of parliament had been suspended but also that the Muslim Brotherhood had decided that those members were not even qualified to have the freedom to choose and that they, therefore, had to defer to a higher authority. That authority was not even the FJP, but the Muslim Brotherhood leadership that is demonstrating with every passing day that not only is it above the party it created, and parliament, but also that it is above the nation.

Thirdly, on that paper that was circulated in parliament we find the same percentage of Islamists among the candidates who come from outside parliament. As though it were not enough that 75 per cent of that 50 per cent of Constituent Assembly members that is drawn from parliament consists of Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood members and Salafis), 75 per cent of the members drawn from outside parliament to make up the other 50 per cent had to be Islamists as well. Moreover, because the Muslim Brothers know that the crime it is perpetuating will compel individuals who had been chosen as members of the assembly to withdraw, they drew up a list of reserve candidates that also consists of 75 per cent Islamists.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to realise that this type of democracy is pure form without substance. It is concerned with props, characters and staging so as to produce a pretty picture, albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way than the majority party used under the previous regime. Then, everyone knew that there were elections and competition of sorts, but they also knew that the National Democratic Party would win a majority by hook or by crook. The Muslim Brotherhood did win a majority in parliament and through elections that were probably fair for the most part. However, they won on a playing ground that was uneven from the start and through an electoral system that favoured them. Perhaps this accounts for their current underhandedness and their iron fist in the business of creating a constitution. They know that they will never have the same opportunity again.

If so, they are the first to renege on their professed faith in democracy. For otherwise what grounds have they to fear as long as the competition is fair and the winner is the person who wins the most seats through free elections just as they did? If they did believe in democracy, what harm would come to them from an independent assembly to draw up the constitution? Why did they have so many objections to the Al-Azhar Document in spite of the lofty principles it contained and why did they turn the question of supra-constitutional principles into a purported attack on religion as though all the articles of a constitution were related to religion? What is unfolding before us is a strange reproduction of the type of counterfeit democracy that we have known for decades -- strange because it is being tailored to this post-revolutionary climate. Unfortunately, not only is the "democracy" in the making a façade, it apparently has to be a facade for yet another dictatorship, or what we might term democracy in an iron cage. With this iron cage, anyone who tries to break through the bars risks excommunication.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a fundamentally man-made organisation made up of ordinary human beings. Although they are trying to confer on it -- and themselves by extension -- a sacrosanct aura in order to acquire greater legitimacy, public opinion has begun to see through them and their methods which do not stop short of flagrant lies and cheating in order to obtain their ends. This has nothing to do with Islam, beneath which banner they are competing, or with any humanitarian values. Nor can it be chalked up to pure political pragmatism. The acts they have committed to create the Constituent Assembly are nothing less than criminal and are punishable by law. But the Constituent Assembly was not the first of their crimes; nor will it be the last. The entire year since the revolution offers abundant testimony to their duplicity.

* The writer is managing editor of the quarterly journal Al-Demoqrateya published by Al-Ahram.

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