As important as the heated debate about who rules Egypt after Hosni Mubarak is, it must not overshadow some more crucial questions, such as: How will Egypt be ruled in the post-Mubarak phase? And how will its political and legal systems look like?
To have a new man at the helm while the old political and legal structures remain intact would be nearly futile. To intellectuals impatient to see Egypt becoming a better place, it is crucial to treat both issues – the president of tomorrow and the organization of political space – equally.
Certainly, one thing to avoid in any arrangement for the future of Egypt is the centralization of power that, ultimately, brings with it the personification of power. In the Third World, institutions are weak and personalized rule is the norm. King Hassan II of Morocco (ruled 1961-1999) even defended this situation: “I am obliged to personify power as strongly as possible, for people do not obey a program or a plan. They obey men, a team of men, and it is all for the best if that team is embodied in a chief and symbolized by one face, one voice, one personality.
In Egypt, rulers have since ancient times been transformed into deities. This tendency has been institutionalized in Egypt’s modern constitutions of 1956, 1958, 1964 and 1971. These constitutions gave the President draconian powers and left all other organs of the bureaucracy subordinate to him. The President has the right to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and ministers, is the head of the government, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the supreme head of the judiciary and the President of the High Council of Police, in addition to heading the ruling party. In addition, the President is neither accountable to the People’s Assembly, nor to a free press or opposition parties; his impeachment is only possible in the case of national treason.
This anomaly must change. Egypt needs a new constitution that does not grant such unconditional powers to the president, and that encourages the emergence of national institutions that can freely and potently participate in the decision-making process.
New social contracts are devised at the beginning of new historical phases. For example, the constitutions of 1956, 1958 and 1971 were drafted right after the emergence of Nasser as the leader of Egypt, the union with Syria and Sadat’s rise to the presidency, respectively. Mubarak’s phase in Egyptian politics has already lasted for around three decades. After Mubarak, a new constitution that heralds the transition to a new era, characterized by democracy, liberty and the rule of law, is needed.
This is particularly indispensable since various articles of the current constitution were formulated to serve authoritarian rule and must be revisited if transition to pluralism and freedom is sought. On top of these articles is article 76 which regulates the process of presidential elections. It was amended in 2007 in a way that paves the way for the candidate of the ruling party and makes it very difficult for independent candidates to run in the elections. Likewise, article 77, which stipulates that the president has the right to an indefinite number of terms in office, needs to be annulled too. There is nearly a consensus among political forces that presidency period must be restricted to two terms.
Any student of Egyptian politics knows that all elections in Egypt over the past 30 years have been rigged. To help put an end to this recurrence, complete judicial supervision over the electoral process is imperative. In the 34 amendments that have been made to the current constitution in 2007, direct judicial supervision over Egypt’s 34,000 poll stations was eliminated, removing the only shield that could inhibit, or minimize, the executive branch’s manipulation of the electoral process.
The list of articles-to-be-changed includes article 179, which allocates vast powers to security agencies, allegedly to “protect security and the public order against the dangers of terrorism. The article allows security forces to arrest suspects, tap phones and search homes without a court order. As such, the article constitutes an immense clampdown on personal liberties and civil rights.
Egyptians aspire to a day when public and private freedoms are respected, the heavy interference of security organs in the political process terminated, and corruption and nepotism eliminated from the daily routine of political action. This could not be done just by changing the chief; the underlying structure of Egyptian politics should change first, starting with the constitution, the supreme law that establishes the structures and procedures of the political game and the powers and duties of its participants.
Nael M. Shama, PhD, is a political researcher and freelance writer based in Cairo. He could be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org