Examining the Constitution: From Research to Dialogue?

Sent On: 
Thu, 2014-03-06
Newsletter Number: 

Previous Arab West Report newsletters have highlighted interviews conducted with members of the Committee of Fifty which amended Egypt’s 2012 constitution, providing the current base of legal standing for the nation. Yet as important as research is, as important as constitutional change is, is it enough?

Constitutional change is a reality. Hajāj Udūl represented Egyptian citizens of Nubian descent in the Committee of Fifty, and described the process necessary to secure their rights to return to their lands. Having been displaced decades ago by the construction of the Aswan Dam, laws will soon be enacted to facilitate their return and the economic development of this and other long neglected regions. Read more here

 But constitutional stability is also a reality. Kamāl al-Hilbāwī represented the Islamist trend in the Committee of Fifty, and described the process of negotiation that preserved and defined the role of shari’a in Egyptian legislation. This was assured through intense negotiations with the Salafi Nour Party, in which Hilbāwī was present. He presents the new formulations within the accumulated rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court, making more understandable the difficult religious terminology.Read more here
And further constitutional change is a possibility. The 2014 constitution largely preserved the process of amending the constitution from the 2012 and 1971 constitutions. But both post-revolutionary documents lowered the threshold to propose an amendment from one-third of membership to one-fifth. Two-thirds approval is still necessary to put the change to a referendum, but now minority parties or alliances have a greater ability to put their proposals to parliamentary, and thus societal, debate. Read more here
For constitutional implementation is necessary. This is the message of Rev. Safwat al-Bayādī, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt and also a member of the Committee of Fifty. In order to make the constitution a working document society and parliament must take the principles enshrined and turn them into practical reality. His article in al-Shurūq newspaper was translated by our intern Maria Hoenig from the University of Tubingen in Germany. Read it here
Maria continues the good work of our continual flow of European, American  and Asian interns, seeking to gain experience in the Egyptian context while contributing to a better intercultural understanding. A brief AWR article exploring anti-Semitism with a prominent Sufi sheikh is an example of the need for better understanding. Read it here
In recognition of our history in this field we have recently received the endorsement and recommendation of Eva and Flemming Anderson, Danish journalists with eight years of experience in Egypt. Read it here
We are thankful for this timely validation of our work to provide context and encourage reconciliation, especially as we seek to launch a new effort to promote dialogue between polarized Egyptian youth. We are applying for support to broaden our study of the constitution to assemble youth of differing political trends into small groups to discuss the constitution. What does it get right? Where did it go wrong? What amendments are necessary? Where is consensus possible?
Such dialogue is critically needed in Egypt, but current political realities make it very difficult for national leaders to engage in such an exercise. Perhaps the youth can be different. In a nation where the median age is 24 years old, we hope this small investment will produce long term results. In the meanwhile, thank you for your ongoing support for Arab West Report and for allowing our material to help shape your view of events. We trust our work aids better understanding, and ask for patience wherever we are wrong.
Jayson Casper,

Researcher,  Arab-West Report