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Egypt needs more time for bill of rights, parties to form

July 5, 2011

The Egyptian political landscape is rapidly evolving, the nation’s leading newspaper Al Ahram reports. The Muslim Brotherhood has fractured, spawning four new parties; smaller, established parties are becoming clearer; and the discussion of a bill of rights highlights differences between Islamists and secularists.

All this analysis should lead to one conclusion — postpone the September Egyptian elections. That likely won’t happen. And while I understand Egypt’s desire to move on with life and distance itself from decades of oppressive rule, patience might lead to more defined parties and greater political choice for Egypt’s democracy-starved citizens. Egypt suffered through 30 years of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. A little more patience might be beneficial.

The new parties require 5,000 signatures from 10 or more governates, which is a taxing task for the new parties that likely lack strong organizational structure and the citizens who must learn about each new party.

Alluding to the Muslim Brotherhood as Egypt’s “most organised” political force might soon become a redundant cliché. The 83-year-old organisation is metamorphosing — some might say disintegrating — into five political parties. It is a far cry from the Islamist group that has, since 1948, survived repeated attempts by the state to weaken it while retaining, on the surface at least, its monolithic structure.

In post-revolution Egypt the Ikhwan (Brothers) is no longer simply the Gamaa (Organisation). It faces no existential threat from a dictatorial regime or police state and now has a political party, Freedom and Justice. Officially approved on 6 June, it is led by three ex- members of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau. Soon it could be joined by four other parties spawned by the group: Al-Nahda (Renaissance); Al-Riyada (Pioneer); Haraket Al-Salam Wal-Tanmiya (Movement for Peace and Development) and the youth-led Al-Tayar Al-Masri (Egyptian Current).

Egyptians are debating three bill of rights-type documents, with the hopes of approving it before elections. One is a Magna Carta-style assurance of people’s rights, one is a more basic document pushed by the government and another is more detailed than the government’s. But polarization between secularists and Islamists have led to divided camps on any bill of rights. More time to develop a compromise would help.

On 26 June Mohamed El-Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced a “Bill of Basic Rights and Principles”. It stipulates that the new Egypt will be a democratic republic founded on equal rights. Islam is acknowledged as the official religion of the country, Arabic its main language and sharia the principle source of legislation. Egypt’s political system will be multi-party, there will be an independent judiciary and the Armed Forces will act as the guardians of the state’s independence.

The bill upholds freedom of expression, the right to peaceful protests and freedom of religion. It seeks to prohibit the detention of any citizen without their first being charged, and enshrines the principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. It also reaffirms the right of citizens to education and privacy, to own property, to work and join syndicates.

The constitution of the People’s Committee, a third bill prepared by legal experts and politicians, is more detailed than El-Baradei’s document. It elaborates on the powers and duties of the president of the republic and the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial authorities.

Civil rights activist Bahieddin Hassan believes the proliferation of charters “reflects a collective spirit and crystallising of a supra-national vision and code of principles”.

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