Debating the amendments

I am catching a plane to Rome in about 20 minutes and have just discovered that Cairo airport finally has free wi-fi. Because of my travels I probably won't be posting much until Tuesday. I did want to mention a debate I went to at AUC last night about the constitutional amendments and the Muslim Brotherhood. Kudos to the organizer for getting a nice panel of people -- constitutional scholar Yehia al-Gammal, seasoned lefty journalist Salah Eissa (who wrote a book a few years ago about the 'lost' constitution of 1954), prominent reformist Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and veteran leftist Hussein Abdel Razek of the Tagammu party.

I was rather miffed that al-Gammal and Eissa spent so much time talking about the provision that sharia is a source of law in the Egyptian constitution. Although this was relevant to the topic of the debate and the whole issue of whether the MB want a theocratic state or not, to be honest I think it's rather besides the point when you have such a calamitous set of constitutional amendments coming through that threaten to permanently reduce personal and political freedoms. For this reason I was rather impressed by the impassioned speech Aboul Fotouh gave, skewering Eissa and defending the MB who are after all the ones being arrested and having their private property being confiscated these days. Although that was perhaps the easy political speech to make (and he was the only real politician of the panel), I do get the feeling that the pointless debate over sharia law (and Coptic demands for a fully secular state, which I personally support) is eclipsing the serious injury done to the constitution. It was particularly disappointing to have al-Gammal, the expert of the group, not give AUC students a better explanation of some of the more damaging changes that would give security forces routine powers to wiretap, search homes, and more. Or how despite rising fraud in elections, fewer and fewer judges will supervise future elections.

It's not the best study of these changes made thus far, but the Land Center has a long report on the constitutional amendments for those who are interested. (Download Constitutional Amendments.doc)

Time to go!
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.