By Oren Fliegelman
December 6, 2012
Just as Egypt was grabbing international headlines for negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas last week, the most populous Arab country suddenly saw its own domestic scandal. Egypt’s new president, Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammed Morsi, issued a power-grabbing constitutional declaration that excluded his decisions from judicial oversight. In response, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Cairo, accusing Morsi of returning the presidency to a dictatorship.
To help calm the protests, the Constituent Assembly, the appointed body tasked with drafting the new constitution, hurriedly preparing its latest draft for a nation-wide referendum now scheduled for December 15. This rushed and confused process has only exacerbated the anger among citizens. The drama is only the latest back-and-forth in a constitutional drafting process gone wrong, as the country has been trying to find its way after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
In the months immediately after the “January 25 Revolution,” hopes were high for a constitutional-drafting process that would be democratic, deliberative, and transparent. Quickly, however, things began to fall apart. Islamist candidates (of varying strains) won over two-thirds of the seats in the extended parliamentary elections of December 2011 and January 2012, leading to protests and fears of theocracy from secular groups and Coptic Christians. Morsi then won the June presidential elections, a contest for which the Muslim Brotherhood had originally promised it would not nominate a candidate. Meanwhile, the newly-elected parliament was dissolved by the Supreme Constitutional Court and the Muslim Brotherhood was accused of packing the Constituent Assembly with Islamist loyalists.
Egypt needs a confident, trustworthy, and respected leader to guide it through the coming years. Unfortunately, since Morsi took office in June, he has been acting as a player in the political game, rather than remaining above the fray to become the leader that his country needs. As Khaled Fahmy, a leading academic at the American University in Cairo, wrote in Al-Ahram on Tuesday, “I must admit that events over the past ten days have dissipated much of my optimism since the revolution.”
Across North Africa, on the other hand, Tunisia has been efficiently and quietly drafting its new national charter. The birthplace of the Arab Spring in December 2010, Tunisia held elections to its Constituent Assembly, a temporary joint legislature/constitutional convention, a little less than a year later. Although Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won 40 percent of the seats in the Constituent Assembly, the party put a great deal of effort into assuaging fears of unilateral decision-making and overzealous religious radicalism. Ennahda put together an alliance with two centrist parties, Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol, creating a coalition that has been dubbed the “Troika.”
While the country has not been without its growing pains, the Tunisian Constituent Assembly has been dutifully performing its task without creating headline stimulating drama like its Egyptian counterpart. Subcommittees have been assigned specific sections of the new constitution to debate, draft, and ultimately submit to the larger assembly for discussion. Some of the sections that have already been debated have had to do with election laws and the national character of the country. Although the process has taken longer than original planned (it was supposed to be finished by October), it is expected to be concluded within in the next six months.
While Egypt is ten times the size of Tunisia and occupies a much more prominent role on the world stage, it seems that Morsi and the Egyptians could learn a few lessons from their neighbors to the west.