Hi all, the vote is today. VERY EXCITING!!! This is really important. So many African countries are revising their constitutions. Kenya just revised its constitution and it passed on August 4, 2010. There is a lot to learn from Kenya. Sudan is newly independent and they will be working on their constitution soon. Lets learn from each others as Africans.
As I mentioned, I attended a crash course on training for the constitution held by a colleague, Professor Mervat Abou Ouf, at the American University in Cairo on March 16, 2011. She gave a very lucid presentation, and she is my new hero. Here is her link.
According to Professor Mervat Abou Ouf, the parliament is currently dissolved, and the constitution is on pause.
The proposed amendments make several changes to the Egyptian Constitution of 1971. Here are her comments on just a few of the amendments.
75: First, it amends part 75, to say that the Egyptian President should be born to two Egyptian parents, and cannot marry a non-Egyptian. One issue with this is that so many people left the country and lived abroad while Mubarak was in power, that it really discriminates against those returning in exile. This rule does not require that one be born in Egypt! Interestingly, in theory, one could be born in France, speak French but no Arabic. Then, one could marry a French Egyptian. In theory, you could never have lived in Egypt, yet still be eligible to be President. In addition, there is some argument about the Arabic, as it suggests that you cannot marry a non-Egyptian wife. I can neither confirm nor deny this, because I cannot speak Arabic, but it certainly indicates women cannot run for president, if it is in fact true.
76: This provision seems desirable. It makes it easier to run for President. Under the old Constitution, only Mubarak's son Gamal really could have qualified for the presidency, because the qualifications were so restrictive. Now, this provision provides three ways to run for president, You may be nominated by members of Parliament in two chambers, you may be nominated by 30,000 citizens in 15 governorates, or you may be nominated by a party holding at least one seat in the Parliament.
Say No to Everything
One reaction to the proposed referendum is that it is unreasonable to make people vote on the Constititutional amendments as a unified batch. It is an all or nothing strategy. Holding the vote at this time is risky, and controversial due to the high illiteracy rate in Egypt, and the speed with which the amendments are being pushed through. One really must ask if citizens have had enough time to reflect on these amendments. In addition, the team which wrote the constitutional amendments was appointed by the military or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as they are known here. This is hardly a democratic process. It would be better if people had the choice to vote on each provision separately. In today's vote, there are only two options. Yes, and No. It would be much better if the Egyptian people had a third choice, such as the choice to vote that they want a completely new constitution.
Egyptians Vote on Constitutional Changes
According to the New York Times, this is the first major test of the country's transition to democracy since the overthrow of Mubarak. Arguably, in my view, this is the first remotely free election ever held in Egypt, and that is to say, ever. . . .
What happens if people vote No on the referendum?
The upside to voting No is that it does not revive the 1971 Constitution. The downside to voting no is that there is basically military rule with no President, no Parliament, and no Constitution. I personally was very happy with my interactions with the military yesterday in Tahrir Square. That being said, Egypt is currently under a military dictatorship, and that is not a comfortable feeling for those who love democracy. There is no guarantee that the currently friendly military could not turn on a dime and become a violent dictatorial regime. In the event of a No vote the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces could, possibly, put a decree in place saying they are in power for X number of months. It is not clear what will happen from a legal and a constitutional perspective if the people vote No.
What happens if People Vote Yes in the Referendum?
According to Professor Abou Ouf, the people who support a yes vote are the military, the people seeking safety and regularity, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the National Democratic Party (supporters of the former Mubarak Government). In addition, some other extremists, in her view, may support a yes vote. Concerns include the fact, mentioned above, that there has not been enough time to review the changes. In addition, the articles are not finalized, and people are not very clear even regarding the Arabic construction of some of the points, which could change the legal meaning of the document. In addition, and disturbingly, voting for the amendments would seem to reinstate the 1971 constitution. In a strange set of circumstances, the amendments do not account for the fact that this constitution which requires a Parliament and a President, would be in place in the absence of those two figures, but a military government would be in place instead. This means that the Constitution would actually be violated while it was in force.
Presidential vs. Parliamentary System
The issue of whether Egypt should have a parliamentary or presidential system, or a mixed system is not addressed at all by the amendments, but should be considered before Egyptians pass a new constitution. There is a vast political science literature on this, and it is an important matter. Thanks to Steve Levitsky of Harvard University for teaching me this idea in his class on Comparative Politics.
Drawbacks for New Political Parties
In theory, there are twenty four political parties in Egypt. Nonetheless, they are very weak. As a result, the main party is the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's old party. In addition, the loyal opposition has been the Muslim Brotherhood. They are very well organized. Some say they are fielding as many as three new parties in the new election. What will happen to less organized parties who are not of the ancien regime, but also do not believe in the Muslim Brotherhood.
1:14 p.m. According to a student, violence is breaking out at polling stations in Giza. People are voting in more than one committee and penetrating rooms with falsified paper. Asyout and Sharkeya are becoming more violent.
A Yes vote could be problematic for several reasons. It is unclear if the President, (whenever Egypt gets one) could run again after two terms. In addition, there will be numerous elections this year. There may be as many as seven (7) elections in less than one year. It is very hard to keep track of everything that is going on right now, and citizens are likely to suffer from election fatigue. It is unlikely that the old government is not going to relinquish power without a struggle.
El baradei, supporters, attacked at polling station.
The Found art of voting
Thug Life, Pro Mubarak Bullies Break their silence
Frustrated Zamalek Residents leave three hour queue
Phone interview with RM, NDP supporter and youth voter, March 19, 2011.
Phone interview with MF, businessman and no voter, March 20, 2011.
Egyptians Turn Out in large Numbers to Vote on Constitutional Referendum