Saturday, November 19, 2011

Alaa Abd el Fattah: The Hostage State

Arabic version in al Shorouk 19 November 2011

When [Turkish Prime Minister Rejep] Erdogan was visiting Egypt there was a joke on the net that said that the Islamists, the Secularists and the Military all liked the Turkish model and saw in it the realization of their ambitions. None of them understood Turkey, her history or her political realities.

Today many of us express jealousy of Tunis, particularly after the success of the Founding Council elections – and I’m afraid this too may be based on a mistaken reading of the Tunisian model.

It’s certain that the Military and their disciples don’t like the Tunisian model, not because it will produce “the Constitution First”, or because it has delivered a big victory for the Islamists. These are details – the important thing in Tunis is that an elected authority will take over all powers and start on a real transitional phase.

In the beginning the Tunisians argued over the powers of the Founding Council. Then the people and the political forces managed to impose their will so that the Council will not just formulate the Constitution but will become the Legislator. Then there was fierce debate about the Executive – resolved just before the elections: the Founding Council will elect a temporary president who will form a government.

And so the Tunisians will not write their Constitution until after representatives of the people take control of all power. And even though the main function of the Founding Council is to formulate the Constitution, the publicity of most election lists concentrated on the legislative and executive programmes of the candidates and the parties. Tunis solved the problem of the revolution that did not seize power. As for us, we’re still drowning in it – and the Selmy Document is nothing if not evidence of the depth of our crisis in the handing over of power.

There has been a lot of talk about Articles 9 and 10 because of what they reveal of the intentions of the military. But the more serious are the Articles appended to the document; one which gives the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) the right to object to any draft constitution, and one which gives SCAF the right to form an alternative Council if the Parliamentary Council fails to agree a Constitution within 6 months.

What this means is that the Egyptian State is held hostage; if Parliament does not do what it’s told and formulate a Constitution quickly – whatever the circumstances and the disagreements – and despite the expected interference of the military and the Remnants (the Fuloul), and if the people don’t do what they’re told and vote to ratify the Constitution – whatever their reservations about it, the Military will not release the State. In fact, I think that if we vote “No” and refuse to accept the Constitution,  SCAF could punish us by dissolving Parliament, (on the pretext that rejecting the Constitution means withdrawing legitimacy) and then we will see a frank military coup – for SCAF has a history of interpreting referenda as though they were a vote for legitimacy.

The problem of the hostage State does not stop at the Selmy document; for even if the document is withdrawn but there’s no handover of power we will remain in the same predicament. We’ve seen how easy it is to push our political parties and elites into violent polarization and how hard it is bring them together – and the Constitution is a massively polarizing  issue. SCAF, in its Constitutional Declaration, authorized itself to decide when work on the new Constitution would begin, even though the referendum gave Parliament 6y months. SCAF will use this authority to accelerate the start of argument and disagreement over the Constitution and use this, in turn, to delay handing over legislative power.

We will not be able to object, for the State is hostage: if the Constitution is delayed Presidential elections are delayed and military rule extended. But as soon as work on the Constitution starts the polarization will start, parliament and the parties will be pulled into it, and we can forget any legislative reforms or any real control on the performance of the military or the government.

Like Tunis, our revolution did not seize power, and like Tunis the counter-revolution and the remnants of the old regime have taken the State hostage.

It’s time to admit that Egypt is like Tunis; that a revolution without a central command, a revolution that embraces profoundly differing currents which have no broad mass base to ease the resolving of these differences – will not seize power except through elections. Negotiating with SCAF will not resolve this, and attempts to find common ground before the elections will not work.

If we accept that Egypt is like Tunis, we should do what Tunis did: we pull together and press for full power to be invested in the first elected body; the legitimacy of the representatives of the people should cancel every other legitimacy.

In Tunis they electing a Founding Council to formulate the Constitution, but they also gave it the Legislative and Executive powers. In Egypt we shall elect a Parliament: one of the organisations of legislative power. We should follow Tunis and not wait for the Shura Council or the Presidential elections. We should return to the streets of the revolution and not leave them until the State is freed and all authority is invested in parliament once it’s elected.

Think about it: the Constitution cannot be formulated freely in the shadow of SCAF – even if we resist meddling attempts like the Selmy document. The presence of SCAF in its present role interferes with all balances. For example, the debate around whether we should have a Parliamentary Democracy or a Presidential System is altered drastically by the presence or absence of a Military Council with wide powers. And our politicians proved, in the scandal of their signing of the Anan document, that they don’t have the craft necessary to negotiate over hostages.

Let’s postpone the arguments over the Constitution, let’s pull our lines together, and form a Government of National Rescue with a new Minister of Defence as soon as parliament is elected. This way the role of SCAF is terminated and a new transitional phase begins, led by the elected representatives of the people. Then we can argue about the Constitution as much as we want.

Alaa Abd El Fattah
November 19th
Tora Investigative Prison


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