Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Brotherhood, the constitution and tyranny | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The problem with the Muslim Brotherhood is that they lost their credibility in the eyes of a considerable portion of the Egyptian people within just a few months as a result of their manoeuvres, their lack of commitment to their pledges, their tendency towards despotism and their attempts to impose their vision by means of fraud and intimidation. The recent constitutional decree crisis is nothing more than one chapter in a book of such crises written by the Brotherhood with their own hand since the January 2011 revolution. This has exposed their tendency towards despotism, and the Brotherhood has suffered heavy losses as a result of their failure to fulfil their promises. This was clear ever since their most famous failed pledge, namely that they would not put forward a candidate for the presidency and that they would not seek to dominate the parliament or Constituent Assembly, not to mention their assurances that the draft constitution would be based on consensus and compromise between different components and categories of Egyptian society.

Following the huge struggle over the draft constitution, it is clear to anybody who reads this that the Brotherhood is not committed to its principles and are violating the spirit and indeed actual articles of this document. In addition to this, the Brotherhood themselves were responsible for supervising the drafting of this constitution thanks to their dominance of the Constituent Assembly. In fact, the introduction of this draft constitution confirms that “the people are the source of legitimacy; they alone have the right to establish authorities. The legitimacy of these authorities is derived from the people and subject to the people’s will, abiding by the constitutional limits in terms of their powers and responsibility.” However the Brotherhood’s conduct has neutralized this principle, particularly their refusal to listen to the voice of the protesters, whether those present in Egypt’s public squares or elsewhere, not to mention the objections of those who withdrew from the Constituent Assembly. The Brotherhood have ignored these voices and instead insisted on imposing their own vision and will by calling a referendum to endorse the constitution despite the objections, protests and the phenomenal divisions now threatening the cohesion and stability of Egypt. As for constitutional limits in terms of powers and responsibility, Mursi has failed to abide by the limits of his own powers and responsibilities as stipulated by the Constitutional Declaration issued in March 2011 that was endorsed by the people in a public referendum. This declaration, which Mursi’s presidential oath of office was based on, determined the powers and authorities of the president during the transitional period; this does not include the authority to introduce legislations or issue constitutional declarations, let alone grant oneself legal immunity and grab hold of absolute power!

The violations of the spirit of the new constitution are not limited to the introduction, but extend to include many constitutional articles. For example, Article 5 stipulates that “Sovereignty of the law is the basis of governance: It guarantees freedom for individuals, legitimacy for the authority, and ensures that the state and any individual shall submit to the law, and that the state is committed to the independence of the judiciary as well as to the principle that no voice shall prevail over the voice of the truth. This is in order for the Egyptian judiciary to remain independent and capable of maintaining its sublime message of protecting the constitution, establishing justice and maintaining rights and freedoms.” So since the Brotherhood rose to power, have they truly been committed to maintaining the independence of the judiciary? Have they allowed the judiciary to be the protector of the constitution? Have they shown any evidence that they are committed to judicial rulings, particularly rulings that are not in harmony with their own desires and trends? By simply looking at the course of events in Egypt, we can clearly see that the Muslim Brotherhood have done everything they can to circumvent the judiciary’s powers and impose their own vision. This was made apparent when Mursi attempted to reverse the Constitutional Court’s ruling by recalling parliament in July, and when he attempted to dismiss Egypt’s General Prosecutor – something that brought him into conflict with the judiciary – before he temporarily retracted this position. However, he later returned to enforce this decision, at the same time as he issued the constitutional declaration that provoked the current crisis.

The Constitutional Declaration granted immunity to the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council; preventing any authority from dissolving these bodies. This, thereby, placed these two institutions above the law, in the same manner that the declaration granted immunity to Mursi and all his decrees from any and all authorities. This means that he cannot be questioned by either the judiciary or the people! Continuing to transgress and marginalize the judiciary, the Brotherhood rushed to complete the draft constitution prior to the 2 December Supreme Constitutional Court session, during which the court was scheduled to look at the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly and Shura Council. They also took action to prevent the court’s judges from holding the scheduled court session by besieging the court headquarter from all directions, blocking all entrances and exits and even climbing the court’s walls! This was clarified in the statement that was issued by the court’s judges in which they announced that the Supreme Constitutional Court would be suspending its sessions in protest, objecting to what they described as a climate of malice and rancor and decrying the “psychological and material pressure” being exerted on the judges. The statement described the situation as “the blackest day in the history of the Egyptian judiciary.” This was perhaps a reference to the slogans being chanted by the Brotherhood and Salafi supports outside the courts, including “the people want the dissolution of the Constitutional Court”, “bread, freedom and the dissolution of the Constitutional Court” and “oh judges of the Constitutional Court, beware the million-man protests!”

Let us compare this climate to Article 74 – of Chapter 4 – of the new constitution, which states that “sovereignty of the law shall be the basis of rule in the state. The independence and immunity of the judiciary are two basic guarantees to safeguard rights and freedoms.” In this case, one must ultimately come to the conclusion that the Brotherhood don’t believe in the draft constitution that they are urging the people to vote for. Indeed, they are doing more than urge, promising that those who vote yes will go to heaven! This can be seen in a tweet posted by Dr. Essam al-Erian, Deputy Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, in which he described those who will vote yes on the constitution – at the forthcoming referendum – as the best of people who will certainly go to heaven!

In fact, the draft constitution contains loose language in certain articles that allow for different interpretations. This is something that has aroused real fears. As for the constitutional articles concerning the judiciary, these introduce slogans that are not in line with the judiciary’s real practices on the ground, not to mention the slogans raised at Muslim Brotherhood protests! This is truly a source of concern because the independence of, and respect for, the judiciary are supposed to be one of the major pillars of governance; this should function as a guarantor for the separation of powers, the protection of rights and the strengthening of the values of justice and equality. The draft constitution highlights the judiciary’s independence at a time when Mursi and the Brotherhood are launching a fierce assault against it and trying to subjugate it to their will. Furthermore, the constitution, in its current form, seems to reduce the powers of the Supreme Constitutional Court in terms of its oversight of the law, whilst it also removes the task of supervising the elections from the judiciary, granting this task to a new electoral committee. This new electoral committee opens the door for possible political interference [in the electoral process].

The question that must be asked here is: if the Muslim Brotherhood are not committed to the draft constitution – which they themselves prepared –seeking to circumvent some of its articles or trying to use these to destroy the principle of separation of powers, then how can they expect the Egyptian people to accept and support this constitution? Indeed, how can they expect Egypt to enjoy stability or calm under a constitution such as this?