03/08/2012

Egypt: a new government, waiting for a new constitution

The Egyptian constitution was adopted on 11th September 1971 after a referendum and amended several times (1980, 2005 and 2007), but on 13th February 2011 it was temporarily suspended by the military following the “Nile Revolution”. A commission to reform the constitution, chaired by Tarek El-Bishry and composed of eight judges, was set up on the 15th February 2011 and a provisional constitution was adopted after a constitutional referendum, which took place on the 19th March 2011. The assembly elected during the last parliamentary elections in 2011-2012, won by the Freedom and Justice Party (PLJ) with 47% of the seats, will be charged to draft a new constitution. On the 12th June 2012, a commission inside the Constituent Assembly in charge of drafting the new constitution was elected in a joint meeting of the Egyptian Parliament and Senate. The drafting of the new constitution would be a success for the Islamists, especially of the PLJ: the constitutional project of the Constituent Assembly will decide some crucial points, as the powers of the President and Parliament, or the role of the military, which remains very influential in the country. It should further define the role of Islam in the future Egyptian institutions, which is a major preoccupation of liberals, even more worried since the election of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, as President.

Recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Kamel Amr, assured that the new Egyptian constitution will guarantee freedom of religion to all Egyptians. He is one of the eight former government ministers confirmed in the new one, led by Hesham Qandil, chosen by the current President of Egypt to form a new cabinet. After various consultations, trying to bring together technocrats, military and political forces, Hesham Qandil announced the final composition of the government. Egyptian Prime Minister has called all political forces to cooperate, but this call was not accepted by all: especially the main Salafi party, Al-Nour, which had won about 22,5% of seats in elections, announced his decision to boycott the government because it was disappointed to receive only one ministerial portfolio. The new cabinet was presented as a “people’s government”, but is not a government of national unity: the majority of ministers are technocrats. According to the Prime Minister, the 35 ministers however will represent all Egyptian citizens, who must unite to face the serious challenges that the country is facing.

Hesham Qandil said that the government’s priorities will be the economic crisis and security, without forgetting the democratic transition process that has already begun. However this process will take some time because it will be necessary to wait for the decisions of the High Constitutional Court on the fate of the Constituent Assembly, on the Declaration Constitutional Complementary adopted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and on the decree of Mohamed Morsi to restore the Assembly of the People’s sessions. It will be necessary subsequently to ratify a new constitution and convince the army to play a role exclusively related to national security. It will be necessary to have a new Parliament that votes confidence to the government and also to continue protecting the economy from the instability of politics and creating a popular consensus around economic reforms that must be adopted. It will be necessary, finally, that Egypt gain international credibility that allows it to access to funds from international institutions, overcoming the distrust of the people themselves.

GIACOMO MORABITO

University of Messina