By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Egyptians want to write their own constitution, with their own hands if they could. It’s a wish many have, unrealistic as it may seem, but one initiative is setting out to help this dream become a reality.
This desire at the grassroots level to create a constitution written by the people — not by a group of technocrats in closed rooms — was the inspiration behind the first meeting of the “Let’s write our constitution” initiative.
“The idea is to write a popular document that represents a social pact between the people and their rulers, a pact that represents revolutionary Egypt by choosing the country we want to live in,” said activist Alaa Abdel Fatah at the start of the meeting.
“Constitutions in other countries were either written by parliaments, constituent assemblies, or by powers that took over authority; but only constitutions written by the people to represent their dreams were most effective.” he added.
Abdel Fatah drew on the experience of South Africa where organizations fighting against the apartheid regime were scattered and disconnected; but after realizing the need to unite and create a country they dream to live in, they started a popular initiative to write their own constitution.
“We are not as disintegrated as the people in South Africa were. We are one nation but only missing the social pact that connects the people through democratic means,” he added.
The initiative is not concerned about the ongoing debate over which should come first, elections or the constitution. Either way, the social pact will be presented to the constituent assembly, whether directly elected or appointed by parliament, to help while drafting the constitution.
Organizers stressed the independence of the initiative from any political forces or parties, though the initiative did manage to draw the immediate support of presidential hopeful Bothaina Kamel during the meeting.
Lawyer from the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and one of the organizers Ahmed Ragheb said the group has been working on the initiative since April.
“Who wrote the constitutional declaration? The army, not the people,” he said, using the metaphor of an empty Tahrir Square to highlight the unrepresentative nature of the declaration.
“The fierce campaigns against or for the constitutional [amendments] are the clearest evidence of lack of unity,” said Ragheb.
“We are aiming to unify the people to write their constitution, to best articulate their dreams,” he said, likening that to an image of a packed Tahrir Square, representative of people’s aspirations.
Ragheb said that the role of lawyers and constitutional experts should be limited to articulating the constitution and translating people’s dreams into a well-defined legal framework, but the dream itself is to be visualized by the people.
The initiative comprises three major committees: one for research, another for communication and mass action, and the third for technology and internet.
The initiative will depend mainly on volunteers across the country to ask people what they want to see in the new constitution.
The research committee will be primarily involved with articulating the questions addressed to the public and putting the framework for their discussion later on. The communications committee is to create and recruit a network of volunteers to conduct polls nationwide, while the technology committee will use social media and online means for publicity.
The audience expressed concern over the lack of a specific timeline to have a final draft of the social pact to be presented to those writing the constitution, in addition to a lack of awareness among people regarding their constitutional rights.
“We have to know first the scale of the volunteers across the country and based on the numbers we will determine the efforts needed and hence the time in which we can achieve our target,” Abdel Fatah replied.
This is not an awareness raising campaign, he said, its job is to ask people about what rights they want to be granted, “and this does not need awareness because people are the only ones aware of their needs.”