Social justice and the draft constitution

Nader Fergany , Thursday 29 Nov 2012

Social justice was a key demand of the great people’s 2011 revolution, but no tangible progress has been made since, with the draft constitution unlikely to change that

The political economic system that the revolution rose up against was not successfully eliminated because it is built on an alliance between political despotism and unreserved capitalism, monopoly and association.

This has resulted in a marriage between power, money and mounds of brazen corruption that we have yet to entirely discover and that is bound to leave an enormous legacy of social injustice.

Therefore, revolution forces or its advocates should provide a sound foundation to establish social justice. Complete social justice could never be achieved until this political economic system is overturned and replaced with a coalition between sound democratic rule and an economic structure that guarantees efficient and fair distribution.  By the way, these are two features of proper capitalism.

The 1971 Constitution, before it was sabotaged in 2007 by the posse of the deposed tyrant, incorporated key provisions that guaranteed sound democratic governance and social justice. Nonetheless, these provisions were not fulfilled because of the abovementioned format of political economy that inherently produces immense social injustice.

Why, then, do we care about the place of social justice in the new draft constitution?

The main reason is because the constitution is the crown of society’s legal structure; laws are derived from it and must come under its banner. It sends crucial signals to all branches of proper democratic rule: legislature, executive and judiciary, to guide state, society and social justice entities since it is a goal of the great people’s revolution. Any deviation from serious action to achieve it is equivalent to high treason against the revolution and its martyrs.

But how can the constitution incorporate texts that guide action to achieve social justice?

There is one prerequisite and three basic guarantees. The precondition is that the draft resolution guarantees sound democratic governance and a peaceful rotation of power. Sound democratic rule means that rulers represent the people transparently and guarantee wise governance, including disclosure and accountability. This would mean that all powers are accountable to each other and routinely accountable to the people through free and honest elections.

This would guarantee that powers are mindful of the people’s public interests, and submit to effective routine accountability on how well they have fulfilled their mandate to govern on behalf of the people.

But there are three more requirements for social justice in a draft constitution that champions the great people’s revolution over tyranny and corruption.

First, the constitution must emphasise the state’s responsibility to guarantee that all people in Egypt, without discrimination based on gender or faith, have several unreserved social and economic human rights. These include the right to good health physically and psychologically that goes beyond the right to medical treatment regardless of one’s financial situation and also includes a healthy environment for a good life.

Also, acquiring knowledge through education and training throughout life, a good job that efficiently employs a person’s skills in a humane work environment, and generating enough income to cover the cost of a decent standard of living for the worker and his family. Also, decent housing and social security services when circumstances prevents someone from working, including old age and illness.

A draft constitution worthy of the great people’s revolution must guarantee these five basic human rights for everyone in Egypt, without discrimination based on gender or belief or any restraints on these rights.

The issue of restrictions is vital; authoritarian rule always seeks to circumvent constitutional provisions that guarantee a right or freedom. Traditionally, constitutional provisions are bypassed through amendments by “constitutional tailors” who restrict rights under the pretext of regulating them legally and end up either curtailing or even revoking them.

Unfortunately, in the new draft constitution, the fanatics who dominate the Constituent Assembly decided on several conditions that appear benign but in truth are not by stating “what does not contradict God’s laws." It is an ambiguous condition that opens the door to extremist jurisprudential interpretations that restrict a right or freedom.

Regrettably, Sharia was not used by this fanatic camp to support a right or freedom, although the essence of Islam’s tolerant Sharia champions ultimate human rights and freedoms. Instead, this camp — which wants hardship to prevail — focused on restricting freedoms and rights under the pretext of applying God’s laws, although this contradicts God’s instruction to make life easier for people.

Using God’s laws to place restrictions in the draft constitution intensified when it came to equality between women and men by linking the matter to the rulings not the principles of Sharia. These rulings are open to interpretation by fanatic jurists and could usher in backward and retarded jurisprudential interpretations, as is the case in some neighbouring countries that call for governing through God’s laws. It is as if those writing the constitution are itching to subjugate women, “the sisters of men,” as the good prophet put it.

Any draft constitution that does not advocate the full rights of girls and women in the face of the historical injustices they have suffered for long decades, or even centuries, cannot claim to champion social justice.

The second guarantee of social justice in the draft constitution is mentioning a minimum wage and pension (which is in actuality deferred pay until after retirement) that rises in proportion to price hikes. This would guarantee a good life for recipients of wages and pensions. Minimum wage is complemented with maximum income — not just wage — as a reasonable percentage of minimum wage, just like in all advanced capitalist countries.

The third required provision is a progressive tax system on income and enrichment (increase in wealth) whereby tax brackets increase as income or enrichment rise.

Let us now look to see if the current draft constitution contains these guarantees. If not, then it is wasting an opportunity for the post-revolution constitution to move Egypt in the direction of a key demand of the revolution: social justice. In that case, the Constituent Assembly — which has corrupted Egypt’s post-revolution political life — will have betrayed one of the fundamental goals of the revolution.

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