In Translation: Egypt's president reads the constitution, sees a problem


Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently dismissed the country's constitution as founded on unrealistic "good intentions" (this same constitution was celebrated, when it was approved in January 2014, as basically the best in the world). In the latest installment of our In Translation series, brought to you as always by the translation professionals of Industry Arabic, Shereef Azer imagines what might have led the president -- now that a parliament that will share some of the powers he has monopolized for the last two years is finally on the horizon -- to change his evaluation. 

Shereef Azer writes: I’ll Show You “Tinkering with the Constitution”!

Online magazine 18+, Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Long ago, we were told that “constitution” is a Persian word that means “father of the law.” Yet it appears as though its current meaning in the corridors of the Egyptian government is “to hell with the law.” The regime’s approach is obvious, as it manipulates the law and the legislative process as it pleases, in the absence of a working parliament. Even so, to now hint at amending the constitution is both extremely provocative and unacceptable.

In his speech at the opening ceremony of University Youth Week, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that “the constitution granted broad powers to parliament, and with good intentions, but the country cannot run on good intentions alone.” Of course, these words represent a great insult to the Committee of Fifty that drafted the constitution. They presume that this committee had no idea what it was doing and that its members merely wrote, with good intentions, what was in their hearts. This is not something that a proper president of the republic should be saying.

The problem is that when you get to thinking about this statement, you necessarily arrive at the conclusion that the president fears something in this constitution and that he wishes he could change it in order to serve some goal. It becomes clear that the president wants to run the country according to his whims and without anything standing in his way. Well then, let’s see what in the constitution might be angering our president and getting his knickers in a twist.

First off, it’s clear that the president has gotten into a jam with all this parliament nonsense – even though he had tried to avoid it for quite some time – and he has finally been forced to take a look at the constitution and its meaning. If there’s going to be a parliament one way or another, he figured, then at least he should see what it’s all about. He opened the constitution and (Oh God, please let it be good!)…there right in front of his face was an absolute disaster. This upcoming parliament has the power to remove the president. Now, I’m not claiming to be a mind-reader, but I’m certain that the president reacted to this particular article of the constitution with a certain four-letter word. Surely, certain thoughts began to cross his mind, but thank goodness he said “good intentions” instead – otherwise, he would already have had the Committee of Fifty arrested and tried on charges of planning to overthrow the government.

Of course, a military ruler who has no interest in democracy, in legislative branches, in the rule of law or in any such talk cannot quite swallow this. “After all, we’re doing fine without a parliament. The people are happy. This measly little constitution would only cause me a headache, or possibly even put me out on the curb – when we are only just getting started!”

Then the president took another look at the constitution and found another stab in the back. What sort of constitution is this? It allows the parliament to be involved in the formation of the government alongside the president of the republic, and even allows it to review the president’s selection for prime minister and to withdraw its confidence from the prime minister as well. You mean to say that after the president has worked tirelessly to find ministers that he can actually put up with, the parliament can simply come along and send them packing? I’m afraid not!

The third thing that the president had no desire to hear is that the constitution states that the parliament must review all laws issued by the president of the republic, even those which were issued when there was no working parliament. What’s more, they must approve these laws or else they become null and void retroactively. Meaning that after all the effort of issuing these lovely laws, like the anti-protest law, the counter-terrorism law and the terrorist entities law, some amateurs can come along and amend them! It’s positively scandalous.

Since one way or another we’ll end up amending the constitution in order to extend the presidential term or to make it open-ended altogether, then why not fine-tune it from the get-go? This way we won’t have to keep making small amendments and we can just put out a whole new package at once.

Unfortunately, no one seems to learn from history. The more the president plays with the constitution, the faster his time will come to an end. In this regard, Sadat’s “extensions” and Mubarak’s amendments of 2007 offer a lesson: In matters such as these, tinkering with things leads to disaster. So I ask, please, that no one mess around with the constitution. Whoever does tamper with it is bound to get seriously screwed.