Since February 11, 2011, Egypt has been posing a series of difficult questions about the future of its political and constitutional system. Many people are pessimistic and some make the situation sound like the end of the world and portray Egypt as a country to enter at your risk.
Only the West is watching the developments in Egypt with admiration because they realize that the country is on its way to establish a wholesome state on both the political and the constitutional levels and a strong economy that can stand on equal footing with Turkey as far as the level of national revenue is concerned and with China as far as competition with Western industry, abundance of human resources, and cheap commodities are concerned.
I have recently talked to a number of American and British observers, many of whom occupy vital positions in the Middle East, and I saw how they admired those difficult questions about the future of Egypt. Egyptians are the ones who are pessimistic owing to the defeatist approach the media is adopting when tackling those questions. From February 11 to date, talk shows have been giving the impression that Egypt will never make it out of the transitional period.
The most difficult of these questions is the one about the constitution. Who will write the constitution? How will the constitution be written? Will the constitution turn Egypt into a religious state where the focus is only on sins and their penalties or a modern state that worships God while baking its bread, cultivating its crops, and making sure it applies the true essence of religion?
A few days ago, a senior member of the ruling al-Nahda Party in Tunisia, Sayed al-Firjani, told me that he is not interested in drafting an article about Islamic laws in the constitution and is, in fact, not in favor of such an option. This is the progressive approach of the Islamist party that did not take advantage of its accession to power to pass the laws its members have always wanted since they were the inmates of the prisons of Habib Bourguiba and later Zein el-Abedine Bin Ali.
The issue of the establishment of a committee to draft the constitution might be the most problematic at the moment especially with the emergence of arguments about the majority not having the exclusive right to determine the new constitution. Yet no one said that the constitution should not be contradictory to the identity of the majority that elected the parliament because otherwise it will be rejected in the popular referendum.
Members of the elite are trying to draft the constitution in a way that suits their tendencies. They say that the 1923 constitution is the best one Egypt has seen. It was the civilian elite that wrote it and not the majority, yet the circumstances were different at the time because different factions in the society were united and there was no polarization between Islamists and seculars and that is why there was no dispute over Islamic laws and identity.
However, there are so many questions now about identity. The elite do not care about the issue of identity because they find it contradicts the concepts of plurality and diversity. For example, they say that Article 2 of the 1971 constitution that established Islam as the religion of the state should be crossed out altogether.
Islamists in Tunisia may not be in favor of an article in the constitution about Islam but this is because their previous and first constitution, drafted in 1959, included no such article in the first place. This constitution, in fact, contradicted many Islamic laws like equating men and women in inheritance. That is why the new constitution will only make sure to remove the articles in the old one that are not in line with Islam.
Egypt is different in the sense it has already had a constitution that gives Islamic law, and implicitly Christian laws, a lot of power. It is possible to cross that out with the stroke of a pen? This is one important compulsory question that the minority cannot answer on its own while excluding the majority.
(The writer is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya Net. This article was first published in al-Gomhuria and translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)