Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

What about the economy?

While Egyptians are taking to the streets to protest against the way the new constitution is being passed, Nesma Nowar reports on how the people’s economic and social rights are being overlooked in the draft

Al-Ahram Weekly

After a process that lasted six months, the Constituent Assembly has approved Egypt’s final draft constitution that will go to a national referendum 15 December. However, the draft has faced much criticism as far as economy is concerned.
Article 14 to Article 30 stipulate the economic principles of the state. According to Article 14, the national economy aims at achieving sustainable development, increasing living standards, eliminating poverty and unemployment, and increasing job opportunities and production.
The state’s developmental plan is set to work on establishing social justice and solidarity, ensuring equitable distribution, dividing development costs between capital and labour and sharing revenues justly. The article also recommends the protection of consumer and labour rights.
The article adds that wages should be linked to production while the state should bridge income gaps and guarantee a minimum wage that would secure decent living standards for citizens and a maximum wage in civil service positions with exemptions regulated by law.
Other articles pledge state protection of agriculture, industry, natural resources, the River Nile, seas, beaches, public funds, ownership of public, cooperative and private property and endowments.
Many economic experts have voiced their reservations on the position of the economy in Egypt’s new constitution.
Amr Adli, director of the Economic and Social Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, slams the economic articles in the constitution, saying they are both vague and general without specific indicators that could guarantee economic rights to Egyptians.
Adli said that the articles have been deliberately written in this obscure way so as not to put any real or concrete obligations on the state. “There are no indicators in the constitution by which citizens can hold the state accountable,” Adli told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He cited the constitution of South Africa as an example of a constitution that includes economic rights in a very detailed fashion in a way that enabled South African citizens to file lawsuits to demand rights to adequate housing, for example.
Indeed, South African courts obliged the state to put forward a strategy for providing adequate housing. “Here is empowerment of citizens and that is what we aspire for.”
Adli warns that the absence of indicators in constitutional articles related to economic and social rights may lead to the squandering of these rights.
He further pointed out that the articles related to the economy in the new constitution are mere modifications to articles found in the 1971 constitution of Egypt that has its own shortcomings.
Adli added that the economic and social rights in the 1971 constitution came in the shape of “grants” where president Anwar Al-Sadat granted Egyptians some of their economic and social rights. He said that the articles were written in a very conservative way, so as to spare the state any obligations. “This was replicated in the new constitution.”
Adli criticised the fact that economic articles have been written just to fill a gap and were written in a careless way without appropriate discussion and public debate.
The constitution has also faced criticism for not identifying the orientation of the economy. Professor of economics at Cairo University Farag Abdel-Fattah said he is pessimistic about the economy’s prospects under the new constitution because of the ambiguity on its orientation and the model the state that would follow in order to achieve development.
Abdel-Fattah added that this vagueness could mean the economy leaning towards overt capitalism, a model he believes seeks to achieve profit for the private sector and that would not lead to national economic development. According to Abdel-Fattah, national economic development needs an increase in production and growth rates, controlling prices, and employment of labour, all of which cannot be achieved within a strict capitalist model of the economic system.
“I don’t see any different economic philosophy than the one Egypt has been following during the last 30 years,” Abdel-Fattah told Al-Ahram Weekly. He said that the constitution does little to enshrine economic and social rights, although demands for dignity and social justice featured prominently in the demands of protesters during the 25 January Revolution.
Other economic segments are also not satisfied by the constitution’s economic component. Ahmed Balbaa, head of the tourism committee at the Egyptian Businessmen Association (EBA), told the Weekly that the new constitution did not include an article on tourism though it included two articles on agriculture and industry stating that they are mainstays of the Egyptian economy and that the state is obliged to protect them. “What about tourism, is it not a mainstay of the Egyptian economy as well?” he questioned.
Balbaa said that tourism is Egypt’s most significant hard currency earner, contributing 11.5 per cent to the country’s GDP while some 20 million Egyptians are working in the industry. “The rights of these people should be protected and reserved by the constitution,” Balbaa said, adding that the constitution should protect the industry, its investors and all kinds of tourism.
And it is not only experts who are against the economic components of the constitution, but also the general public. In a conference held in Cairo last week entitled “Forming the Economic Decision”, a debate on the economic component of the constitution took place where supporters and opponents of the draft constitution expressed their points of view.
At the end of the debate, conference attendees were allowed to vote on the articles related to the economy. Some 86 per cent voted against the articles and only 14 per cent voted in favour of them.

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