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An anti-Mursi protester talks to soldiers standing guard outside the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo

Nearly two years after the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, here we are once again with protesters back in the Egyptian streets, facing army tanks and tear gas, and this time with human rights defenders openly expressing concerns about the possibility of civil war.

There’s only one way out of this: Egypt has to build a new political future based on respect for human rights.  The proposed constitution falls short of this, and if President Mohamed Morsi wants to back his claim to be president “for all Egyptians,” he must demand accountability for past human rights abuses and add constitutional protections for fundamental freedoms, particularly for women, before the document is submitted to voters for ratification.

For the U.S. government, the crisis presents a difficult situation, but officials really have only one choice.  They must insist on the primary importance of a constitution that will protect human rights. The U.S. has also had other priorities with regards to Egypt – maintaining stability in the Middle East’s most populous nation, supporting its role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and deterring armed Islamist groups.

All of that won’t matter if the crisis in the streets isn’t averted.  This time the main concern for the U.S. has to be with fulfilling the Egyptian people’s demands for justice and dignity that fueled the 2011 uprising.  With hard evidence that some of the tear gas used in 2011 against the protesters was made in the U.S., our government owes the Egyptian people nothing less.

The drafting of the constitution was flawed from the start.  There was minimal progress during the military rule after Mubarak’s resignation, which lasted more than a year. That was followed by a flurry of activity from a Muslim Brotherhood-led drafting panel that rushed the document through a Constituent Assembly in one day without significant public discussion. A ratification vote is to be held within days.

“The key is a constitution and a political culture that preserve human rights.” – Geoffrey Mock, Amnesty International USA

This flawed process is matched only by the constitution’s flawed content.  Not only does the proposed constitution limit freedom of religion and expression, it also harkens back to the worst abuses of the Mubarak era by allowing for military trials of civilians.

Protesters run during clashes with police near Cairo's Tahrir Square November 28, 2012. (Reuters)

It also fails to produce any protections for women’s rights or ending discrimination against gender.  The message sent to the many women who were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising is that all their leadership was for naught.  Based on the reports of the women in the streets this week, the activists aren’t listening.

Activists also fear that the constitution holds weak protections for civil society, such as trade unions, the press and an independent judiciary.  These, of course, represent the social elements that suffered the most under the 30 years of Mubarak rule, the area that Egypt must develop to return to its heritage of a stable, vibrant and intellectual life.

In addition, the document fails to fully guarantee economic, social and cultural rights, such as protection against forced evictions; and it also tolerates child labor.  None of this meets any of the demands for dignity that were at the heart of the Egyptian protests, both those in 2011 and in the streets now.

Anti-Morsi protesters, among them Coptic Christians concerned about their minority rights, chant in Cairo's Tahrir Square December 11, 2012. (Reuters)

There are also political disputes at hand, and to be clear, Amnesty International is not taking a political side.  Some of President Morsi’s opponents include former members of the Mubarak regime, and it’s not clear what control Morsi’s office has over the actions of the Egyptian military.  It’s also true that the president has taken some steps that would include greater accountability and ending impunity for past human rights abuses, an essential step on the road to peace and justice in Egypt.

Egyptians already have plenty of experience of what an autocratic leader can do with a bad constitution.  In reporting on the crisis, we’re hearing about old controversies about divisions of class and religion, the Christian fear of Muslim Brother rule, and whether former Mubarak allies will use the crisis as a way to regain influence. These are legitimate concerns, but they can be resolved.  The key is a constitution and a political culture that preserve human rights, and it’s time for the U.S. government and the world to help the Egyptians achieve that.

This post was originally published under a similar headline on blog.amnestyusa.org. It is reprinted here with Amnesty’s permission.

The views expressed in this Insight are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you’d like to share your opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. If you are a Middle East expert or analyst associated with an established academic institution, think tank or non-governmental organization, we invite you to contribute your perspectives on events and issues about or relevant to the region. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for an Insight post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your institutional blog.

Geoffrey Mock

Geoffrey Mock is Egypt country specialist and chair of the Middle East County Specialists for Amnesty International USA. On Twitter, he can be followed at @gmock.

10 Comments

  1. Reda Zaher Sobky

    December 18, 2012

    If the constitution is not well written to satisfy most is not all constituencies it does not deserve adoption. Please get it…constitutions are not party documents but social contract documents to be approved by as many citizens as possible, if not all citizens. Laws by distinction can be passed by a majority of 51% although in the US senate it takes 60% to push something over strong objection. The constitution that fractures society and imposes the will of a marginal majority leads to structural conflict sucking up the energy of the society. It is imperative that this stage be successful for the future of Egypt. Include all, or suffer the consequences of social dissent and fracture.

    Reply
    • Michael Eliel

      December 18, 2012

      I wish the Egyptian people well on their journey. What made a constitutional republic so effective here in the United States was the willingness of our delegates to be civil and compromise. Much of our success is thanks to the personal sacrifices of the people and politicians rather then their personal victories. Our reward is a society based on rule of law, with a relatively low level of corruption and economic freedom. We have a system that balances the legislature, judiciary, and executive. While hardly perfect, we created a system that over time paved the way for our citizens to achieve better representation and equality. Maintaining a balanced democratic society takes constant vigilance on the part of the people. I am impressed with the Egyptian people's will not to be ruled by decree any longer. We too got rid of our Kings, and are better for it.

      Reply
    • Ali Baba

      December 19, 2012

      the constitution is fraud. the long history of Egypt is marked with tolerance. once the civil war in Afghanistan. many Egyptian fanatic went to Afghanistan to fight with the rebel . they return to Egypt with serious form of radical Islam. .it is spreading in Egypt like a cancer ..now .it is too late to Egypt back as a secular moderate country .therefore ,Egypt is dead. the constitution is an evil maneuver to make lives of moderate Egyptian and Christian is a living hell

      Reply
  2. Mohamed Atef Nageb Nasr

    December 14, 2012

    the longer this criris continue , the more deepening of the cracks between different categories or sectors of people.and for USA the party which could comprehensively prove his power on the ground will gain her support. actually there are 2 attitudes to try to face the problem and confront religous ruling ;first , on , internally , trying to drain their support and capability to control by aspects of social faireness & freedom in between people.secondly , which I see more fundamental and critical in the path of these disputes , if happened, is the change in attitudes of security agencies and other groups in population life arabian tribes in sinai , upper egypt in terms of respecting human rights and their ability to unit and convince international partners about how the catastrophic the brotherhood ll continue to behave and do.

    Reply
  3. Abdelbasit Shaheen

    December 13, 2012

    President Morsi is execellent and elected president, he takes place this position by democracy and most Egyptian people are satisfied by his activities, but you have know that Mubarak regime figures hate hime becaues he will NOT allow for corrupted people to make more corruption.

    Reply
    • Ali Baba

      December 13, 2012

      Egyptian people does not like mersi. he use deception and liar to achieve his goal .once these two strategies failed, he use violent. he sent Muslim brotherhood in the street to assault women and attack children like animal

      Reply
  4. Navnit Mandalaywala

    December 13, 2012

    World does not need any Dictators., who ruin countries and people live in fears.

    Reply
  5. Ali Baba

    December 13, 2012

    Islam does not respect human right.

    Reply
  6. c smythe

    December 12, 2012

    arabs killing arabs is preferable to arabs killing ‘mercans . . . they want to annihilate the great satan, remember?

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    December 13, 2012

    I am sick of all the bleeding hearts in the name of "Humanity". These Nomads of the sands have pointedly expressed their desire to annihilate the US infidels over and over and over! And you want to sacrifice 'mercan lives for these backwards people? Let Nature take it's course. aRABS KILLING A.

    Reply

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