The big picture in Egypt: The referendum on the draft constitution on January 14-15, and the government’s crackdown on demonstrators

What is going on in Egypt?

The referendum on the draft constitution to be held on January 14-15, 2014 holds the promise of a transition to democracy in the new charter’s text, while the government has cracked down on demonstrations by sentencing three leading human rights leaders to three years in prison.

The referendum will also be a referendum on the “roadmap” for a transition to democracy set out by the Army and the interim government of Adly Mansour, who signed a restrictive law on demonstrations in late November.

See

Patrick Kingsley (Cairo), “Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour signs ‘anti-protest law’; Rights groups and lawyers say legislation requiring permission to gather will make legal demonstrations almost impossible, The Guardian, 24 November 2013 (11:27 EST).

The government has, in fact, engaged in a number of actions which appear to be anti-democratic and violative of human rights.

While restrictions and violations of human rights should not be condoned, it may be useful to try to understand the strategy the government seems to be pursuing.

The biggest challenge to the government and the draft constitution does not come from human rights activists, but rather from the Muslim Brotherhood. The November law restricting protests was probably aimed at the onongoing protests by Brotherhood supporters above all.

It is important to the military and the government that the referendum be approved both by a high percentage of voters and by a turn-out with broad participation. They are taking no chances that the Brotherhood might turn the referendum to its advantage.

Once the referendum and the “roadmap” have been approved by Egyptian voters, the transition will move into a new phase. After the new constitution enters into force, human rights advocates will have a stronger set of tools with which to wage their struggle for the rule of law. The landscape will shift.

Significantly, two leading liberal parties have just announced that they will join together, and are also calling on other progressive parties to join them. Moreover, they have come out clearly for the holding of presidential elections prior to national assembly elections, which the draft constitution leaves up to the interim government to decide.

Further, liberal political leaders and parties appear to be moving toward acceptance of General Al-Sisi’s running for president, even pledging their support if he decides to run.

See

AP, “Egypt’s Moussa defends draft constitution; As Egypt’s draft national charter set to be put to referendum in near future, head of outgoing constitution-amending committee defends final version,” Ahram Online, December 10, 2013.

“Raid on Egyptian rights group widely condemned; Egyptian human rights organisations condemn police raid on Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights and detention of its staff,” Ahram Online , 19 December 2013.

Youssef Hamza, “Egypt’s charter referendum will be a verdict on Islamism, The National (UAE), December 21, 2013 (updated December 22, 2013 at 07:46).

“Egypt’s Maher, Adel and Douma sentenced to 3 years in jail,” CoptsUnited, December 23, 2013.

“Two liberal parties announce merger,” Aswat Masriya, December 22, 2013.

Whether General Al-Sisi decides to run for president, and whether if elected he would respect the new constitution’s provisions, or rather use the blunt instruments of state power in an attempt to re-establish the old order, are questions which can only be answered over time.

In order to have a successful referendum in January, the government of Adly Mansour would do well to demonstrate its respect for the fundamental human rights established in the draft constitution, whose approval by the people of Egypt is so earnestly sought.

The short-sighted use of heavy-handed tactics could defeat the government’s goals of achieving a large turnout for the referendum, and the legitimacy a resounding vote of approval could confer.

Egypt’s future stability lies in the balance.

The Trenchant Observer

For updated news on Egypt from Egptian sources, see

Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt Independent

Egypt Daily News

Aswat Masriya

CoptsUnited: A Newspaper for All Egyptians

Egypt Online (Egyptian State Information Service. The site contains the official text of the army statement of July 1, 2013.

Daily News Egypt

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.