September 16, 2013 | Policy Brief

Egypt’s New Political Transition

September 16, 2013 | Policy Brief

Egypt’s New Political Transition

Egypt’s “Committee of the Fifty,” which serves as a constituent assembly, held its first deliberations last week to draft a new constitution. The meeting was a major milestone, given the unrest following the July 3 ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi. After thee months of bloodshed, the meeting could be a step toward putting Egypt back on the path to democracy. However, much can go wrong in the months ahead.

On July 8, Egypt’s temporary president, Chief Justice Adly Mansour, issued his roadmap for political transition. This roadmap was articulated in a constitutional declaration, or temporary constitution, made up of thirty-three articles that set forth the procedures of the transition, the rights of Egyptians, and the role of state institutions.

This roadmap was imperative to prevent further unrest after the toppling of Mohammed Morsi. However, one could also argue that the turmoil began long before that, when, following a “palace coup” in November 2012, Morsi granted himself absolute power. The following month, a controversial constitution was approved by referendum under dubious circumstances. Morsi’s government then steadily started to take control of state institutions while failing to address Egypt’s economic, social, and economic problems. Morsi further refused to hold a serious national dialogue that would engender a more inclusive political process. The stalemate led to the rise of the Tamarod movement, which organized massive nationwide protests – more than 20 million Egyptians by some counts  –  that paralyzed the state and ultimately prompted the armed forces to step in.

Immediately following Morsi’s demise, a committee of ten judges, legal experts, and academics prepared recommendations for amending Morsi’s controversial constitution. In fact, this committee presented its recommendations to the fifty-member Constituent Assembly that met for the first time last week.

The “Committee of the Fifty” represents nearly every component of Egyptian society, including farmers, workers, lawyers, journalists, policemen, and the army. It further includes representatives from al-Azhar, Egypt’s most important Islamic body, and the Coptic, Catholic, and Anglican churches. The committee also includes representatives of Egypt’s most important political parties, including the Salafi Nour party. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party is not officially part of the process, but the Brotherhood’s political current is unofficially represented among the ten public figures appointed by the cabinet.

The aim of the “Committee of the Fifty” is to decrease the power of the office of the president and to increase the power of the parliament and the prime minister, moving Egypt closer to a parliamentary system. Some doubt that the military, widely accused internationally of carrying out a coup, will allow this to take place. Others question the committee’s ability to write a new constitution within 60 days, considering the many contentious debates that will take place in throughout Egypt during the drafting process. Finally, some question the role of the “reborn pro-democracy” Amr Moussa, former foreign minister in Hosni Mubarak’s government, given his prior participation in a decidedly anti-democratic regime.

With these challenges looming, the committee has started work. If these 50 members complete the constitution and pave the way for transparent parliamentary and presidential elections, Egypt has a fighting chance to embark on a new and genuine democratic process.

Khairi Abaza is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.