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Majority Egyptians want 'modern democratic state': British ambassador

Despite earlier misgivings about the 3 July ouster of Morsi, British ambassador James Watt now says majority was against deposed president Morsi, hails 50-committee tasked with amending 2012 constitution

Ahram Online, Sunday 15 Sep 2013
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British ambassador in Cairo James Watt (Photo: Facebook)
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Marking International Democracy Day, British ambassador in Cairo, James Watt, has said some Egyptians feel deeply aggrieved over the end of Muslim Brotherhood rule, but "many more" feel it is right to "start the search anew for Egypt's future as a modern democratic state."

Watt's comments, in the form of a blog that was sent by the British embassy on Sunday, were unexpected, given the EU's negative stance on the ouster of former elected president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.

"I return to my blog after what seems a century at least of absence," Watt said. "But everything before 30 June, for those of us living in Egypt, seems to belong to the distant past. Such has been the intensity of what Egyptians have lived through."

"Never has political change been felt more deeply, coming as it does already after two and half turbulent years since the revolution of 25 January 2011."

"Egypt has ended a year-long experiment with Muslim Brotherhood rule. Some feel deeply aggrieved, but many more (it seems to me) feel that it was right to start the search anew for Egypt's future as a modern democratic state. I want to focus here on the prospects for that future, since 15 September is UN International Democracy Day."

Morsi was deposed as part of a roadmap that was enforced by the armed forces, following overwhelming protests across the nation against his rule.

The roadmap, which was agreed upon by most of Egypt's political forces, also included freezing the 2012 constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominant constituent assembly, pending amendments, as well as the dismantling of the Brotherhood-majority Shura Council (Parliament's upper house).

Even though it stirred up substantial controversy among the international community for a while, Watt says he thinks highly of the roadmap.

"In the immediate aftermath of the huge popular demonstrations of 30 June, and the replacement on 3 July of President Morsi by an interim President, Judge Adly Mansour, I found it hard to imagine how the roadmap setting the course for a new constitution and elections could be given effect," he explained.

"At least in the very short and ambitious time line the roadmap gave for the process. We all had memories of the long and controversial negotiations over the new constitution of 2012. And the arguments over the law and conduct of elections. And we could see that a fully inclusive process gave the best prospect for building a new democratic order on firm foundations."

"But conditions are never ideal. You have to start from where you are, and with the realities of the day, while keeping faith with a commitment to a truly democratic outcome, and one in which individual freedoms are fully and effectively protected."

A 50-member committee, in which Islamist representation is negligible, was formed in early September to amend the 2012 constitution in order to send a final draft to a public referendum.

The selection of the liberal-left majority committee couldn't have been better, according to Watt.

"How likely is the new constitutional drafting committee going to succeed in this, where its 2012 predecessor notoriously failed?" Watts wondered.

"The new Committee of Fifty, in my personal view, stands a much better chance than any alternative process, in practical terms, that I can imagine in the circumstances we currently have. The membership is highly distinguished, and there is no ideological agenda to divide it."

"The lessons of recent times are fresh in the members' minds. The separation of politics and religion, which is perhaps the most fundamental desire uniting the great majority of Egyptians, is an accepted principle for the C50's work. They deserve success, and I feel increasingly confident they will achieve it.

"A constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and belief, and respects the equal status of women without reserve, along with all other fundamental rights, would be a just reward to the Egyptian people, after almost three years of struggle."

Egypt's non-Islamist political forces have repeatedly argued the suspended constitution was not representative of all layers of society and limited many freedoms, blaming the majority Islamist members of the outgoing constituent assembly for ignoring their recommendations.

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