Meanwhile, the constitution-writing farce ground to a halt last
week, on April 10, when it was invalidated by the Supreme Administrative Court,
a lower court subject to appeal. The Brotherhood and the Salafis had packed the
Constituent Assembly with a veto-proof majority of its own members. According
to its founding rules (which were dictatorially issued by the Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces last year), the constitutional committee was supposed to broadly
represent Egyptian society. Instead, it was an Islamist monolith, alienating
virtually every other imaginable constituency, from the establishment clerics
of Al Azhar and the Coptic Church to women, workers, peasants, liberals, and
nationalists. Egypt's many constitutional and legal scholars were notably
A boycott had already weakened the Assembly, which lost
legitimacy with all but the staunchest supporters of the Brotherhood and the
Salafi Noor Party. But it was dissolved on a technicality. According to the
court, the Islamists in parliament aren't allowed to appoint themselves to
write the constitution. The court said the Brotherhood had broken the rules --
which is odd, given that the Brotherhood had followed the constitutional
process to the letter even while abnegating its spirit.
The ruling leaves the Brotherhood free to appoint another,
equally imbalanced and illegitimate assembly, so long as its members are
Islamists not already sitting in parliament. The fundamental problem remains --
the Brotherhood is able, and appears willing, to behave in the same
authoritarian manner as Mubarak's regime.
What's really going on here? Who decided to disqualify three
presidential front-runners? Who shut down the constitutional process that had
been convened, however poorly, by the freely and fairly elected parliament? On
In both instances, a group of essentially anonymous and
unaccountable bureaucrats radically transformed the political landscape, citing
reasons at best opaque and at worst nonsensical, deploying jargon and legalese
to set the parameters of Egypt's future state.
We have no idea, really, who these officials are, whose
interests they serve, whether they are acting in good faith, as independent
decision-makers, or at someone else's behest. It's a replay of the way major
decisions were made in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt, with a charade of faceless
government cogs announcing policies rooted in a complex hierarchy of laws while
the all-powerful president claimed complete and impartial detachment.
This is what Issandr El Amrani at the Arabist calls "lawfare"
in the Egyptian context, and it extends a nefarious precedent, cultivated
during decades of dictatorship. From 1954 to 2011, civilians ruled Egypt under
a nominally liberal constitution; in practice, those civilian presidents were
retired generals who exercised absolute authority through the military and
police, all the while ignoring the constitution on the pretext of a
decades-long "state of emergency."