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Amendments betray the spirit of Egypt’s revolution: "No" campaigners

As thousands of protesters gather in Tahrir to say "No" to the amendments, Ahram Online looks at the "No" camp's main arguments

Ahram Online , Friday 18 Mar 2011
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The January 25 revolution sought to redraft the constitution not amend it, argue “No” campaigners. Online videos and street posters have been circulating around Egypt, bearing the slogan: “No to patching up the old constitution. We demand a new constitution.”

“The revolution has overthrown the regime together with its old constitution. We propose that a temporary constitution be formulated and used for a transitional period until a presidential council is formed under which a constituent assembly will be elected to draft a new constitution,” says Khalid Abdelhamid, a member of the Revolution Youth Coalition.    

While “Yes” campaigners argue that new amendments oblige the new government to draft a new constitution, “No” campaigners argue that this is not the case. A fierce debate has erupted around Article 189, which states that:

“New amendments to the constitution are to be requested by either the president (with cabinet approval) or at least half of the members of both houses of Parliament after which a constituent assembly of 100 members is to be elected by a majority of the elected members from a joint session of the Parliament and Upper House who would then draft a new constitution within six months and submit it to a popular referendum.”

The “No” campaigners complain that the amendments to this article do not clarify whether the new Parliament and Upper House are obliged to draft a new constitution or not. Furthermore, “No” campaigners argue that regardless of whether it is an obligation or not, the very fact that it is being hotly debated indicates that it is not clearly stated and should have been clearly formulated as a guarantee.

Moreover, “No” advocates believe that the voices of the revolution will not be fully represented in the new Parliament and that former National Democratic Party (NDP) members and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will be the only organised forces on the ground. The NDP and the MB have been fighting the electoral battle for decades while other parties, especially new ones, have had minimal involvement or experience. Those non-organised political activists and revolutionaries, on the other hand, are currently not represented by any party.

The January 25 revolution, the so called “Youth Revolution”, was largely spearheaded by young people with little or no ties to Egypt’s political sphere. However, they have formulated clear demands, including the redrafting of a new constitution, and having sacrificed a lot for the pro-democracy movement, they deserve to have a say, argue “No” campaigners. Leaving the redrafting up to a newly, hastily elected parliament does not guarantee fair representation to all and is thus undemocratic.

However, pro-amendment advocates have accused the “No” camp of being undemocratic by not accepting that a “fair and free” elected parliament, if dominated by the MB, could best decide on the formulation of the new constitution. The “No” camp insists that a MB dominated parliament is not what they fear. Rather, a non-representative constitution is the problem.

Furthermore, the non-amended presidential powers included in the 1971 constitution are what “No” advocates fear the most. There is no reason, they argue, why the proposed amendments have not mitigated the powers of the president and left it up to the new government for debate. The revolution that toppled president Hosni Mubarak does not want another dictator, they say.

“No” advocates are campaigning for an elected constituent assembly to draft a new constitution – to be put to a referendum – reflecting the revolution’s values, including a curtailing of presidential powers. They believe that “amendments betray the spirit of the revolution.”  However, “Yes” advocates say the amendments are one step towards this constituent assembly and should be approved since they would pave the way for such an assembly to be elected by parliament. The “Yes” camp believes that amendments are not patching up the old constitution but rather indicate that the old is no longer in use. Still, “No” advocates insist that the amendments do not clarify that the old constitution is necessarily null. On the contrary, accepting the amendments implies accepting the old constitution’s legitimacy. If the amendments are the equivalent of a declaration of constitutional principles then this should have been clearly stated.   

The “No” camp includes the Revolution Youth Coalition, 6 April movement, ElBaradei campaign, Ghad Party, Wafd Party, Tagammu Party, the Nasserist Party, Karama Party, Renewal Socialist movement, the Revolutionary Socialists as well as presidential candidates Amr Moussa, Hisham Bastawisy, Mohamed ElBaradei, Ayman Nour and Hamdin Sabahi. Several other fronts and coalitions of activists and civil society organisations have also been campaigning for a “No” vote.   

Some of the “No” campaigners are also complaining that the referendum has been hastily organised and does not leave enough time for public debate and an informed understanding. They complain that the coming elections, in the case of a majority “Yes”, will follow too soon and will not leave enough time for proper campaigning or political debate.

Finally, “No” advocates fear that the referendum and the parliamentary and presidential elections will witness the same forms of fraud and corruption that have been associated with past elections. Accusations of “vote buying” gone viral, alleging that some voters are being monetarily bribed to vote “Yes”. Moreover, they fear that religion is also being used to blackmail voters. They say Salafists have been scaring people, telling them that a new constitution will necessarily mean removing Article 2 which states that Islam is the main source of legislation.

Rasha Azab, activist and “No” campaigner, says “NDP thugs attacked a conference we organised in Maadi as part of the “No” campaign. With them were Salafists commenting about what women were wearing and accusing us of wanting to remove Article 2 of the constitution which states that Islam is the main source of legislation.”

Thousands of “No” campaigners are gathering in Tahrir Square today saying “No” to constitutional amendments and “Yes” to a new constitution.  

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