Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Too much talk

The president has been meeting some of his political adversaries but without solid results, Dina Ezzat reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

It has again been a week of constitution dialogues. Having received a wide range of political adversaries and supporters last week to lend their hand in advancing the completion of a controversial draft of Egypt’s new constitution, Mohamed Morsi, armed with no major successes from last week, resumed the rounds of talk.
The highlight was a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with Mohamed Al-Baradei who, according to sources close to the Nobel winner, took his time to agree to the meeting pending a tentative agreement over the agenda.
Al-Baradei, according to presidential sources, ultimately agreed to a meeting that would not end in an announcement of any decisions on the fate of the Constituent Assembly drafting the constitution as he had originally wanted.
“We agreed to accommodate his schedule and his wish for specific agenda items but it is not for the guests of the president to decide for him what comes out of the meeting,” said one source.
Ultimately, Al-Baradei’s demands were not the familiar “out of the box” kind that has been made to Morsi throughout the past two weeks by some of his interlocutors, from former presidential runners to representatives of the diverse political parties and groupings and those of the civil society and semi-governmental bodies.
The key demands that have been put to Morsi, according to participants in the dialogues of the president and other political activists, are designed to secure a more consensual or at least less controversial text of the constitution. Some have been demanding the extension of the mandate of the drafting assembly for around 12 more weeks. Others have demanded the establishment of an independent committee where the Islamist trend to which the president is party does not carry the same hegemony that it has in the current assembly whose composition is still being debated by the Constitutional Court. This committee should examine the controversial items of the current draft and offer its views to the assembly. There was also the proposal expanding the 100-member Constituent Assembly by a presidential decree. The new members, according to the proposal, should be from the “not so fairly represented civil and liberal trends”.
“Technically speaking the president should refrain from making any direct contribution to the works of the drafting committee,” said a presidential source. “Whatever talks he held during the past two weeks were designed to encourage all the political forces to come to an agreement sooner rather than later because the country cannot support a new round of tension over the constitution. If we are serious about getting the economy moving we need to get the constitution done.”
This and other sources declined to confirm news that had been provided to Al-Ahram Weekly to the effect that the International Monetary Fund is making the signing of an agreement over a debt worth $4.8 billion conditional on the finalisation of the constitution. They said that it is becoming “pressing” and “necessary” for the constitution to get done and that the president would continue his “pursuit of a consensus that could get the final text out for a referendum next month as scheduled”.
Putting the draft up for a referendum next month, according to some of the participants in the Morsi dialogues, seems to be a “come what may decision” on the part of the president. And, as critics insist, this would only show that Morsi was not serious about soliciting the views of his interlocutors over the past two weeks but was urging them into succumbing to the views of the Islamist trend in the name of honouring national commitments.
The fact that Morsi is not serious about genuinely accommodating the views of all the political forces prompted political activist Rabab Al-Mahdi to decline an invitation extended by the presidency to join the Morsi dialogues this week.
On her Facebook page Al-Mahdi openly stated her position and her concerns. Morsi, Al-Mahdi wrote, is not really acting upon the wish of political forces.
Speaking to the Weekly, Al-Mahdi said that Morsi had so far failed to honour the commitments he had made to the revolutionary political forces that gave him their support on the eve of the June presidential run-offs against Ahmed Shafik which Morsi won. Morsi, she added, had neither included representatives of the diverse political forces in the key decision-making posts nor for that matter in the decision-making process.
“Even the assistants and the members of the presidential advisory board are not included in the decision-making. Indeed, some of those have been publicly critical of some presidential decisions,” Al-Mahdi said.
A political scientist by profession and a political advisor to former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Al-Mahdi argued that Morsi had even turned his back on some of the key demands of the 25 January Revolution including the pursuit of social justice and the elimination of the influence of the unmistakably corrupt elements of the Mubarak regime.
Today, Al-Mahdi insisted, Morsi, as the head of the executive who is currently holding legislative powers pending the election of a new parliament, needs to refrain from intervening in any way in the drafting of the constitution.
What Morsi needs to work on, Al-Mahdi argued, is to honour the commitments he has made and that of the obvious demands of the revolutionary forces and the general public. “We need to have clear parameters for our foreign policy and we need to know how these parameters would be pursued. We need to see reforms in the Ministry of Interior and we need to see those involved in the attacks against the revolutionaries and demonstrators brought to justice; and we need to see a serious pursuit of social justice through serious laws that seriously and not cosmetically allows for the enforcement of a progressive taxing system — among other measures.”
These same views were presented to the president during the past two weeks but he gave no commitment, according to the Weekly’s sources, on any plan of action on any of these matters.
For Inas Mekkawi, founder of the new feminist group Bahiya that has lobbied along the lines of other groups to remove firm anti-women language from the draft of the constitution, the political choices of the president so far are basically a reflection of the priorities of the Islamist trend to which he subscribes. “These priorities are not those of the other political forces and this clash of priorities is clearly reflected on the debate over the constitution,” Mekkawi argued.
Social justice, reform of government bodies and the combat of the institutionalised Mubarak-era corruption, according to Mekkawi, cannot gain any momentum from the current draft of the constitution that seems to be tightly tailored to serve the views of the Islamist trend on the future of Egypt. “What we see are items that worry more about imposing non-consensual Islamist views rather than providing a strong base for the pursuit of social justice. The dialogues of the past two weeks have offered nothing to change this dynamic,” she stated.
As such, Mekkawi perceives Morsi’s dialogues as “simply an added intervention to strengthen an already over-stated Islamist view”. She added, “it would therefore be better for the president to refrain from intervening further in the constitution drafting matter.”
Particularly worrying for Mekkawi is the fact that presidential intervention is happening while the debate over the constitution involves a disagreement over the scope of presidential prerogatives and authorities.
“These dialogues raised more question marks than answers as to what the president is really up to when it comes to the constitution,” Mekkawi stated.
Mekkawi finds it disturbing that “in parallel to these dialogues representatives of the Islamist trend are being allowed many forums to promote their views while representatives of the civil-liberal trends are denied many forums to address public opinion.”
Ahmed Hishmat, a lawyer and human rights activist gave yet another concern to the format and content of the Morsi dialogues over the constitution. “They are unrepresentative. The president is talking to a selected few who he thinks can help him have his way but he is not commissioning any of the state bodies to actually go and ask the people about what they really care to see in the constitution.
“If the views of these particular individuals, whether former presidential candidates or political activists, were requested then the issue should have been assigned by the head of the drafting assembly to its communications committee,” Hishmat said.
Hishmat, who was involved in arranging a series of across-the-nation public debates over the constitution, is also concerned about what he qualifies as “an earnest presidential effort” on the debate over Sharia and the constitution.
“The debate over Sharia and its different readings was never an issue for the 25 January Revolution. Not a single person during the 18 days [between the start of the uprising and Mubarak’s ouster] spoke about Sharia,” Hishmat said.
According to Hishmat, this goes to show that the president is not just running away from the key demands of the 25 January Revolution but is also working to present a totally different agenda — “strictly Islamist and non-consensual” — on the table. He added, “on the face of it, the president acted as if he was giving a push to a real consensus but at the heart of it he is pushing for his own agenda and that of the Islamist trend.”

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