If the vacuous civilian leadership and the military’s recent brutality were not enough to demonstrate the shortsighted nature of the “people’s coup” in Egypt, the constitutional declaration issued by army-backed interim president Adly Mansour certainly does. From the moment the Egyptian military deposed Mohamed Morsi and announced its roadmap for yet another transition, major questions emerged concerning the imposition of a new political process and how inclusive that process would be.
The resulting declaration incorporates a patchwork of various elements of the previous transition, including some of the most troubling aspects of the Morsi presidency that prompted the mass protest movement that led to his removal in the first place. With the Egyptian opposition’s disparate parts already voicing strong objections to its content, the declaration also promises to be as divisive as any decree issued over the last thirty months.
One of the major differences in the new transition is in prioritising the passage of a constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections. When this question was put to Egyptians in a March 2011 referendum, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of electing their representatives first and then tasking them with selecting the committee to write the constitution.
Based on the previous outcome, the military has determined this time that the process should be far more tightly controlled. Taking the constitution passed during Morsi’s tenure in late 2012 as their starting point, a ten-member committee of judges and legal experts will propose amendments to be presented before a 50-member committee of public figures and institutional representatives that will also workshop the document.
The continued overt involvement of Mubarak era judges in redrawing Egypt’s constitution, something Morsi attempted to circumvent, raises serious doubts about whether the resulting document will accurately reflect the most pressing concerns that prompted Egyptians to revolt against the former dictator.
It is difficult to envision that a traditionally regressive judicial body would issue a constitution that guarantees greater freedom, equality, social justice, and the rule of law than Egyptians experienced under Mubarak, while also challenging the military’s privileged status.
Moreover, with half as many members, the constituent assembly is likely to face twice the problems of its predecessor, which featured domination by Islamist parties and saw talks break down in a heated debate over the role of the Sharia in the civil state.
There is no reason to assume that this divide, however manufactured it may have been, has subsided. For good measure, the interim constitution combines the religious provisions in a neat little package in its very first article, presumably to placate the coup’s Salafi supporters.
As the process moves forward in the coming months, the constitution is scheduled to be put up for a public referendum by year’s end. Short of alienating a significant segment of the population as the Muslim Brotherhood had, it is unclear how the recently empowered opposition plans to reconcile these deep divisions.
The fact that the country’s largest political party is on the receiving end of an all-out campaign of repression resulting in dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries and arrests, along with an assault on its institutions, ensures that the current process is likely to be less representative, not more.
Still more worrying, perhaps, is the continued consolidation of legislative and executive powers in the military, and by extension, its appointed interim president until the next elections, not scheduled until 2014 at the earliest. When Morsi temporarily invested himself with similar powers last November to see the constitution through to passage several weeks later, he was roundly condemned as a worse dictator than any Egypt had ever seen.
Morsi was particularly singled out for attempting to replace the Mubarak-era public prosecutor in a sweeping expansion of presidential power. In the first days of his presidency, not only has Mansour already made appointments to the heads of Egypt’s major judicial bodies (all remnants of the Mubarak regime, incidentally), but he is also poised to appoint a new public prosecutor after the Supreme Judicial Council ruled that it could not do so under a suspended constitution, effectively leaving it up to the president.
Unsurprisingly, given that Egyptian politics of late have seldom been principled, there has been little comparative uproar over Mansour’s all too eagerly assumed powers. To be sure, the Tamarod campaign and its partners from among the liberal, leftist, revolutionary, and Salafi forces have all issued condemnations of varying degrees with respect to certain provisions within the declaration. However, when considering that these forces came together to enable the military to reassert its control and effectively press the reset button on the transitional process, such outcries ring hollow.
Enjoying the popular legitimacy granted to it by millions of Egyptians who pushed for the forced removal of an elected president, the military is unlikely to budge on the critical matters, and has only improved its ability to wield power from behind the scenes. Shortly after the constitutional declaration was made public, a military spokesperson issued a statement praising the document as a step forward by the interim president—as though the military had not had a hand in creating it all along.
Even in the course of issuing amendments to the declaration, as Mansour is likely to do to maintain some semblance of unity within an increasingly fractious political environment, the ongoing crackdown against Morsi’s supporters will continue to cast a dark shadow over the remainder of an already fragile process. Notably, the constitutional declaration says next to nothing about transitional justice and accountability for the crimes committed against protesters dating back to January 25, 2011. Then again, that appears too tall an order for a regime that has only grown frightfully more efficient at killing its own citizens and doing so with impunity.
Dooming this transitional process will be the military’s fateful decision to take sides in the nation’s political deadlock. Had the heads of Egypt’s armed forces genuinely wanted to resolve the impasse between the country’s political forces, they would have attempted to force a meaningful dialogue among the parties and used their leverage to bring about major compromises on all sides. Instead, this coup appears to have been led with the sole purpose of removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power, not resolving the deeper problems inherent in Egypt’s post-Mubarak transition.
In hastily putting forward a constitutional declaration that isolates the most problematic elements of Egypt’s troubled transition, Mansour has crudely assembled a creature that is likely to haunt Egyptians for the foreseeable future.
Abdullah Al-Arian is an Assistant Professor of History at Wayne State University, where he specialises in the modern Middle East.