"In Order to Form a More Perfect Union"

Cairo, Egypt

Tonight Erin and I went to a meeting of the Popular Coalition for Reform, one of the many fledgling political organizations just beginning to find their feet. The topic was “Why we oppose the amendments to the constitution.”

The basic argument boils down to this: The constitution was written under Pres. Anwar Sadat to support a military intelligence state, and expanded under Mubarak to lock in that dictatorship. Amending that dictatorial constitution is not reform; it’s a cosmetic change to the process of presidential elections that doesn’t alter the fundamental oppression of the constitution or the political system.

They point to the banner that went up on Tahrir Square in the last days of January, listing the main demands of the revolutionaries, and a new constitution was on that list, as was a reform of the Parliament and political party system. These amendments, written by a council formed by the military that put the dictatorship in power in the first place, and pushed through so quickly on the heels of the revolution, is an attempt to placate Egyptian revolutionaries without any substantive changes.

All of that I’d heard before. The most energetic speaker, however, had a slightly different angle that I hadn’t heard before:

This, he claimed, was Egypt’s first broadly based popular revolution since Moses led the Israelites away from the the pharaoh. (Some would argue that the 1919 Revolution was also a broadly based popular revolution, but I don’t know enough to quibble about the details.) Unlike the military coups that brought Nasser and Sadat to power, this was a grassroots revolution supported by intellectuals, the working classes, the poor, women, students … all walks of life. As such, the creation of a new government should not be left to the military, but should include the participation of all those parties that demanded the reform. He quoted the Constitution of the United States: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.” He quoted a similar line from the constitution of the French Revolution (in French, so I didn’t quite catch it). He quoted Rousseau, saying that this Egyptian Revolution also called for a tabula rasa, a clean slate on which to draft a new constitution, a new political system such as Egypt has never seen.

But however impassioned the words of the new revolutionary parties, with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis and al-Azhar University supporting the amendments and the recommendations of the Supreme Military Council, there’s still a great deal of doubt as to whether the amendments will truly be rejected.

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