New Egyptian Constitution

Democracy Hangs by a Thread

The new draft constitution sets down the timetable for democratic transition on paper, but the police and military are standing guard at the station and controlling the points, writes Karim El-Gawhary in his commentary

How good is a draft constitution that contains many positive articles, when a not insignificant element of the political landscape was excluded from the constitutional assembly and while the police state rages out on the streets?

This is the question that Egyptians must now ask themselves after the constitutional assembly voted on the 247 articles that will now go to a referendum.

Many of the articles look good on paper, with one important exception: The Egyptian military has ensured that its role in politics has been enshrined in the draft document. For the next eight years at least, the military will decide on who fills the post of defence minister.

Muslim Brotherhood shunned

The process through which the draft came about was even more problematic. Of all the political forces represented in the country, it was the movement that held power until the military putsch five months ago, the Muslim Brotherhood, that was completely excluded. With this constitution, Egyptian society was certainly not picked up from the point at which it now finds itself. It does not reflect any social consensus.

Anhänger der Muslimbruderschaft demonstrieren gegen die Räumung des Rabaa al-Adawiya-Protest-Camps in Kairo; Foto: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in political oblivion: The new Egyptian constitution strengthens the role of the military and revises the 2012 constitution influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. Army leaders annulled it after the toppling of President Mohammed Morsi. Many senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood are now in detention

In a bid to push it through by hook or by crook, a police state has taken shape comparable with the one in place during the Mubarak era. A new restrictive right to demonstrate and right of assembly is doing the usual and has for some time now been applied not against the Muslim Brotherhood, but also against any dissent by secular Tahrir activists. And ironically by those who claim to have come to power through mass demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi.

At present, no one in Egypt is really able to explain how on earth a referendum on the constitution, as well as presidential and parliamentary elections can be expected to take place in this sort of climate.

The timetable for a democratic transition has now been put down on paper, but the military and police are standing guard at the station and controlling the points, to ensure that the train does not travel against their will in a direction that deviates from the predetermined route.

Karim El-Gawhary

© 2013

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Editor: Lewis Gropp/

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Comments for this article: Democracy Hangs by a Thread

There are people; they don’t get it, until now. The Muslim brotherhood was not kept out of the political scene, the brotherhood itself didn’t want a part in the new government, on the contrary, they wanted it all or nothing, they wanted to rule alone. Where is the democratic ideal? On the other hand, why take a party into government which threatens shameless in public, to destroy the whole country and Sinai? And for the moment and near future Egypt needs first stability, which can never be accomplished while there are always violent demonstrations (Egyptians are not able to demonstrate peacefully, except the secular Tahrir activists). For this Egypt’s security forces are very much needed, like it or not. And by the way, the restrictive right to demonstrate is practiced in all democratic countries all over the world.

Margarete Hablas04.12.2013 | 09:17 Uhr

Lieber Herr El-Gawhary zu Ihrer Beurteilung halte ich fest: 1. Das Wesen der Demokratie ist der Kompromiss. Das hatten die Muslimbrueder nach gewonnener Wahl nicht verstanden, 2. Die Uebernahme der Macht durch die Armee wurde daher von weiten Teilen der Bevoelkerung begruesst und entspricht nicht der Definition eines Putsches, 3. bei einer in Demokratie nicht geuebten Bevoelkerung bedarf es einer Institution, die fuer geordnete Verhaeltnisse und einen zumindest partiellen Rechtsstaat sorgt. Diese Rolle kann die Armee als einzige hierchische und professionelle Organisation erfolgreich ausueben: eben diese Aufgabe hat sie nach Atatuerk durch Jahrzehnte bin der Tuerkei auch bewaeltigt. .

Eugen Spannocchi05.12.2013 | 12:16 Uhr