Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Change can wait

The draft of Egypt’s new constitution contains only minimal economic and social changes and no explicit guarantee of social justice, writes Noha Moustafa

Central Bank
Central Bank
Al-Ahram Weekly

The 50-member committee entrusted with the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution started its mission this week after the 10-member judicial committee had proposed its amendments to the suspended 2012 constitution and presented them to the presidency at the end of August.
The modified version of the 2012 constitution focuses on the role of the state, individual rights and civil liberties, and the role played by Sharia law as the main source of legislation while not spelling out any fundamental changes in economic and social rights.
 “The general impression is that these rights weren’t a priority for the judicial committee during the discussion of the suspended 2012 constitution. This is only normal considering the nature of the transitional period, which has demanded addressing other pressing matters, such as the political structure, the electoral system, the future of the Islamist parties, and so on,” said Amr Adli, director of the Social and Economic Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a pressure group.
According to Adli, much the same thing appears to be happening in the drafting as took place during the meetings of the constitutional assembly last year. “They keep ignoring the fact that the economic crisis played an essential role in the demise of both Mubarak’s and Morsi’s regimes,” he said.
Adli said that articles in the 2012 constitution had been intentionally written in an ambiguous way in order not to put any real obligations on the state. “There weren’t any economic or social indicators in the 2012 constitution by which citizens could hold the state accountable,” he said.
It is not yet clear if this deficiency will be addressed in the final version of the new constitution. In the meantime, Adli warned that the absence of such indicators could lead to a failure to guarantee such rights.
Khaled Amin, an associate professor of economics at the American University in Cairo (AUC), saw the new draft in a different way, however. “Unlike in the previous version, terms like social equity, a minimum and maximum wage, and a comprehensive development plan are either added or highlighted in the new text,” he said.
In the proposed new version, economic rights are listed in Chapter 2 of the constitution and in articles 23 to 36. Some of these have been taken over from the previous version without change apart from nominal changes in wording. However, one article states that the aim of the government’s management of the economy is to develop economic activity and encourage investment, which was not mentioned in the 2012 version.
Amin pointed out that one of the new articles, number 23, notes that the state’s economic management is derived from a comprehensive development plan, which tends to maximise the role of the state in the economy, unlike in the previous constitution. “The text as it is now implies that the state will play a greater role in the economy, and this should be carefully considered in the final version,” he said.
The 2013 draft, however, eliminates limits on labour representation on the boards of public-sector companies, but keeps the minimum representation at 50 per cent of the seats.
“The proposed constitution keeps labour representation as controlled as possible,” Adli said. “This is reflected in the choices of the 50-member committee that included unpopular figures among workers and farmers, such as Al-Gibali Al-Maraghi, the deposed former chairman of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, Ahmed Khairi, head of the National Union of Egyptian Workers, and Mohamed Abdel-Kader, head of the Farmers Union.”
 The committee did not include popular labour activists such as Kamal Abbas and Shahinda Makled.
The judicial committee also included an article that obliges private-sector firms to include labour representation on their boards, though it does not specify a percentage. “This puts limits on business at a time when the state is trying to encourage investment,” Amin said.
He said that labour representation was an issue that should have been left to the law, not stated in the constitution. “It is very rare that such details are referred to constitutions,” he said. Articles regarding business, namely articles 15 and 17 in the 2012 constitution, have been rewritten in more general terms in the 2013 draft after the addition of the tourism sector.
Amin said that the drafters should have included the services sector, including real estate, tourism, banking, and transportation, without mentioning each activity separately. The Egyptian economy is becoming more and more service-oriented, with agriculture and industry representing only 40 per cent of overall economic activity.
Article 56 regarding the provision of one syndicate for each profession remains untouched in the new draft. During the drafting of the 2012 constitution, a dispute started over this article as some professionals wanted to ensure that they would have the freedom to form numerous syndicates. Article 56 makes this impossible for professionals and workers.
“This article comes at a time when we still aren’t sure if the new draft law regarding syndicate freedoms will be approved or not,” Adli said.
According to economics expert Abdel-Khalek Farouk, one of the issues addressed in the proposed draft is the independence of regulatory authorities such as the Central Bank and the Central Auditing Agency (CAA).
“In the 2012 constitution, there was very little that ensured that these authorities would be able to conduct their tasks in setting policies or combating corruption autonomously or without the interference of the executive authorities. As a result, they could be subject to the whims of politics and politicians,” he said.
“The Central Bank must be independent in its decisions, both at the level of monetary policy and in terms of monitoring the banks,” he said. “This will help the country to avoid possible economic disasters as a result of government interference in the workings of the Central Bank.”
The Central Bank and CAA are acknowledged as independent bodies in Article 182 of the new draft, among other authorities. Under the proposed amendments, these authorities have full legal personality and the right to work without interference.  
Despite the few changes, Farouk nevertheless expected the final draft of the new constitution to differ from its predecessor on economic and social rights, especially as the 2012 constitution failed explicitly to promote social justice.
Changes in the taxation system have also been made in the new draft, while adding that the payment of taxes along with other public financial duties is an “obligation according to the law.”
“The 2012 constitution stated that social justice was the basis for taxes and other financial costs,” Farouk said, who had suggested the new wording to the drafters.
However, it seems that there is a consensus among the legislators for the time being that the definition of social justice should be limited to the payment of taxes and wages, though perhaps not to broader social and economic rights.
“Citizens have the right to education, health insurance, work, adequate housing and fair pay and a balanced distribution of incomes between minimum and maximum according to the economic and social conditions of the country, as well as to a social safety net and sufficient pensions,” Farouk complained.
“There are also other rights that should be secured, which may not be addressed in this version of the constitution appropriately, such as the right to fair policies to control the market and the dismantling of monopolies harmful to the interests of society as a whole and to poor and low-income people in particular.”
“There is also the right to recover the funds that were looted from the Egyptian people over many years,” he added.

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