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From the other side: The inspired leader and the constitution

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How many years will we wait for the ruler to be convinced that his position in power is temporary?

Gamal Eid

How many years we spent! How many years will we wait for the ruler to be convinced that his position in power is temporary and that his belief that he is the inspired leader, the sole ruler or God’s successor on earth do not justify his presence in power until death or until he is toppled by a revolution or a coup?

We think this is a disease which is not restricted to Arab leaders only; that it finds fertile ground to grow in autocratic regimes all over the world. Its symptoms are that power-addicted people, as soon as taking office, arrange to remain in power for life, on the grounds that the people insist they stay in power, given that they are a gift from heaven to the people. They will also think of opposition as a deviant and malicious group.

The first arrangement taken by this kind of leader is the legal structuring and constitutional amendments that will help them to stay in power. They do not care about a law that may be amended by the parliament or by their own wills, or a constitution that forms a contract between people and the ruling authority and stipulates that the ruler should be toppled or substituted if he breaches that constitution.

Most Arab leaders are examples of this kind of leadership; like Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi  of Libya, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Gulf monarchs and princes.

But have things changed after the Arab Spring revolutions?  Not by much.

Many of the symptoms of that disease have started to be evident in, for example, Egypt’s new constitution, which is now being drafted by a Constituent Assembly that was formed under the rule of military generals, and continues its work under President Mohamed Morsy.

During the era of the military rulers, the most urgent case when drafting the constitution started was to exclude the military institution from the rule of law. This step was meant to keep the military outside parliamentary control and to make the army a state within the state, like the situation in Pakistan and Algeria.

But when Islamist Morsy took office, the situation changed and the major concern became religious dominance over the state and attempts to Islamise it given the Islamic majority in the Constituent Assembly. Under that dominance, any right to assert public freedoms should be consistent with Shari’a law and any restriction on practicing such rights is based on the same legal provisions without taking into consideration the different interpretations of these provisions that may conflict with each other.

The rights of women, minorities and freedom of expression in all forms always come at the forefront of rights that are curtailed on the grounds of religious Shari’a including Islamic, Christian and Jewish religions.

For example, when stating any right for women, minorities and freedom of expression at the beginning of any article, we will find restricting words in the same article that topples these rights by the use of terms such as ‘but’, ‘not contrary to’, ‘taking into account’ or ‘regulated by law.’

So, the first part of the article will be meaningless through the second half of the same article. For example, woman is equal to man, in a way that is not contrary to Islamic law. The freedom of belief is guaranteed, but practicing the rituals of faith are restricted to heavenly religions, and in a way that does not violate public order. The establishment of associations and parties is assured, taking into consideration national sovereignty. Issuing newspapers is guaranteed, but the law regulates the establishment of radio broadcast stations. Banning of human trafficking was excluded because some scholars may issue fatwas (religious opinions) to legalise the marriage of underage girls.

So, through a constitution like that a dominating group in Egypt seeks to consolidate their rule for their own survival and that approach is usually connected with the ruler, leader or, in other words, caliph.

About the author

Gamal Eid

Gamal Eid

Gamal Eid is a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer and executive director of the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information (ANHRI)


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