Social justice clauses for Egypt's new constitution

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Sunday 13 Oct 2013

Renowned economist Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar addresses the 50-Member Committee drafting the new constitution with specific suggestions to advance the goals of the January 25 Revolution, especially on social justice

Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar
Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar (Photo: Al-Ahram)

T'adilat Lagnat Al-Khubraa 'Ala Dustour 2012 (The Modifications of the Experts Committee on the 2012 Constitution) by Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar, Strategic Studies Series, Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Issue 238, Cairo, 2013. pp.29

In his new work, Ahmed El-Sayed El-Naggar condenses the issue of amending the 2012 Constitution to the maximum, for the 50-Member Committee (tasked with amending the suspended 2012 Constitution) is holding its meetings right now.

In fact, there is no time left for words. What is required are precise, clear and tight drafts. Egypt, now, is about to be released from one of the most dangerous catastrophes it witnessed in its modern history. This catastrophe is Muslim Brotherhood rule, which was leading the country into the abyss. It is about to get rid of the 2012 Constitution, which was aimed at institutionalising the Muslim Brotherhood state.

Drafting a new constitution following a mighty revolutionary wave, like the one we have recently been through, entails that the demands of this wave — and before it the demands of the January 25 Revolution, which fell victim to treachery — should be the guide.

According to El-Naggar, what is required from the new constitution is "constructing a legal system that forms an umbrella for freedom, dignity, human equality, real political democracy that materialises the separation of powers via checks and balances, and social justice," all absent until now, despite being the basic demands of the January 25 Revolution.

The author of this strategic overview draws our attention to previous constitutions, pre-revolution, the last being the 1971 Constitution, that comprised a number of great constitutional principles that soon became hollow through contradictory laws. For instance, general and personal freedoms were destroyed through a package of laws constricting freedoms, alongside emergency law. This in turn led to the tyranny of the police state that pertained for decades. This historical experience stipulates that the 50-Member Committee write down lucid, clear-cut constitutional rules in a way that blocks any circumvention when subsequent laws are enacted.

The author divides the issue into two main interrelated parts. The first presents an analytical reading to the constitutional modifications suggested by the Experts Committee ahead of the amendments being passed to the 50-Member Committee. Some of these modifications are positive, but others amount to a setback even by the standards of the 2012 Constitution — especially in economic and social areas. This puts an additional burden on the 50-Member Committee in drafting a constitution that institutionalises a fair and modern state.

El-Naggar's suggestions on the modifications of the Experts Committee (also known as the Committee of 10) comprises approximately 30 clauses. They includes, for instance, Clause 8 that was modified by the Experts Committee in a draft that is worse than that of the 2012 Constitution — a clause that deals with the state's commitment to providing the means to implement justice and social solidarity. There is also Clause 11, concerning motherhood, childhood and women's rights. The author demands that the constitution states the implementation of positive discrimination towards women by giving them a quota of parliamentary seats. He also demands that the constitution states the implementation of another kind positive discrimination towards women: employment in state-owned agencies or in the private sector, in order to right the wrong by which unemployed women's energies are wasted, while many of them are school and university graduates.

As for Clause 14, which states the right to peacefully strike, regulated by the law, it ignores the rights to peaceful sit-ins and demonstrations as basic democratic rights. The same goes for Clause 16, regarding social insurance, which should establish that the state is committed to providing a pension, instead of only saying that the state will work on providing pensions. This also applies to Clause 17 concerning health insurance and Clause 18 dealing with education.

The Experts Committee modified about 30 clauses and they need to be rewritten to conform to the demands of the revolution, especially ones related to social justice, such as clauses associated with the unjust tax law, and state bodies assigned to monitor public resources.

As for the second part of El-Naggar's study, it includes drafts for economic and social rights that comprise 42 clauses, incorporating a number of clauses mentioned in the second chapter in the 1971 Constitution. The most significant suggestions are on the role of the Central Bank as an independent institution, modifying the wages system, ensuring the freedom and independence of syndicates, the state's commitment to scientific research with allocations from the GDP, ensuring the right of accommodation and a fair relationship between producers, consumers and merchants. Moreover, the author suggests adding two clauses: one related to military expenditure, which needs an enormous increase in order to be equal to average military expenditure throughout the world; the other concerns civil companies that are subsidiaries of the military, established after price liberalisation and the onset of privatisation policies.

Two annexes to the study are also included, dealing with advancement of development and addressing unemployment, considered the main mechanisms in combating poverty. Poverty needs to be addressed also through other measures, relating to wages, pensions, social insurance, protecting consumers, and reforming bread and energy subsidies so that these subsidies go to the poor. 

Finally, specific steps to change the corrupt wage system and build a new one without inflation is suggested, including raising minimum wages by abolishing energy subsidies to cement, fertilisers, steel and ceramics companies, or modifying current tax laws in a way that increases revenue proportionate with income, while also working to raise the performance of public sector companies and state-owned economic agencies.

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