Thousands of Egyptians have again taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest. This time, the offense stems from President Morsi’s efforts to ram through the text of a constitution that would drastically change the rule of law in Egypt. Morsi announced last Saturday, December 1st, that a referendum will be held on December 15th–a straight up or down vote on the constitution. Egyptians living abroad were supposed to begin voting today, but reports have surfaced that that process has been delayed.
Protestors are interpreting these efforts, along with some other recent policy decisions by Morsi, as a power-grab. The Muslim Brotherhood has proved effective at the ballot box, and if the constitution goes through, they worry it could negatively influence Egyptian society. Judge for yourself. The english translation of the entire constitution is here, but it was published in February. I’m not sure if the text has changed or if the translator chose to go more idiomatic with the translation, but I have decided to reproduce my own version of a translation of the preamble in this post. I think it captures some more of the religious signification, as well as the implications of the comments about the “Nile Basin.” (This would refer to the countries like the Sudan, Ethiopia, Eriteria, Uganda, and Kenya–a broader signification I think than “Nile Valley.”) here it is:
Preamble to the Constitution
We the people of Egypt,
In the name of God, the gracious and merciful, and with his assistance
Declare that this is our Constitution. A document of the January 25th revolution, which was inspired by our young people and supported by all of the people, and protected by the armed forces after we refused all forms of oppression–injustice, tyranny, exclusion, looting, corruption, and monopoly–in Liberation Square (midan al-tahrir) and in all the towns throughout Egypt.
Declare all our rights–“Life/Bread (‘ayish), Freedom, Social Justice, and Human Dignity,“–by the blood of our martyrs and the dreams of our children and the struggle (jihad) of our men and women.
Restore the legacy of our great civilization and history, the oldest state which has risen on the banks of the immortal Nile, which knew the meaning of citizenship and equality and non-discrimination, and brought the first alphabet to the world, and which provided a base for monotheism and knowledge of the creator, and embraced the prophets of God and his heavenly Messenger, and decorated the pages of human history with creativity.
Continue our pure revolution that united the Egyptians behind a common slogan, to build a modern democratic state; we declare our direction with the following proposals:
One: The people are the source of power; they found it, and its law (sharia’a) derives from them, and the state is under their control. Those who are entrusted with the responsibility for reform are not granted a privilege behind which to work against the interests of the people.
Two: The system is democratic; the peaceful transfer of power is entrenched, and multi-party pluralism is encouraged, including fair elections and the role of the people in making national decisions.
Three: Individual dignity and dignity of the nation.. There is no dignity for the nation which does not honor the woman. Women are sisters (shqa’iq) of men, and they share in the responsibilities and gains of the nation.
Four: Freedom is a right, freedom of thought, creativity, and opinion; freedom in housing, ownership, and travel. These freedoms were endowed by our creator, who made the universe and gave birth to humankind.
Five: There is equality of opportunity for men and women; no discrimination, or mediation, or favoritism in rights and privileges.
Six: The rule of law is the basis of individual freedom and legislative power, and the state is subject to law. There is no voice which overrides the strength of individual rights. The judiciary is independent and is entrusted with the sublime message (resala) of protecting the the constitution and administering justice and maintaining rights and freedoms.
Seven: National unity is ordained, and focused on building a modern Egyptian state, and aiming toward progress and development; perpetuating the values of tolerance, justice, and moderation to ensure the rights and freedoms of all the citizens without distinction between the sons of the national groups
Eight: Defense of the nation is an honor and a duty; and our armed forces are a neutral, professional national institution in political affairs, and are the protective shield of the nation (bilad)
Nine: Security is a great blessing; entrusted to the police, who work to serve and protect the people, and who administer justice, for there is no justice without protection, and there is no protection without security institutions that respect human dignity and the rule of law.
Ten: Arab hope of national unity; shown by the past and called for by the future and the necessity of fate, integration and brotherhood with Nile basin countries and the Islamic world is the natural extension of the genius of the location of Egypt and its existence on the map.
Eleven: The cultural and intellectual leadership of Egypt, is an embodiment of its soft power and is a model given by the freedom of its creators and thinkers, and its Universities, and its linguistic and scientific academies focusing on research, and its press and its artists and literati and its media, and its national church, and al-Azhar mosque, whose history is an extension of the national identity, tending to the immortal Arabic language, and the Islamic law, and which has been a central beacon of enlightened thought.
We the people of Egypt,
Strong in God and his prophets,
And knowledgeable of the rights of the nation and the communities within it,
And conscious of the national and human responsibility,
Execute and promise to support the contents of this constitution, which we accept and give to ourselves, stressing our true determination to preserve it and defend it, and to protect and respect it by all the powers of the state.