Via Ahram Online, by Abdel Moneim Said
I hope this subject is not too sensitive, but since I started writing I decided I would only say what my conscience and experience dictate – whether this pleases or irritates the authorities, the elite or society. I give this prologue because I am perplexed by what I will write regarding the constitution – which will be a recurring theme. And as I write, I pray to God that the second Constituent Assembly lives and thrives, and we do not dither and dawdle again on this seemingly endless journey, and it is able to pen a constitution that befits Egypt and Egyptians.
Here, I propose that the constitution should once again make Egypt the heart and core of the constitution, and thus we are writing a constitution for “The Egyptian Republic” or “The Republic of Egypt” just as our forefathers wrote a constitution in 1923 for “The Egyptian Kingdom.”
To be honest, and with all due respect, as a citizen I don’t understand the meaning of “The Arab Republic of Egypt,” because the adjective “Arab” is already a geographic fact since we are flanked by an Arab nation that speaks Arabic, and we already acknowledge this by stating in all previous constitutions that the official language of the country is Arabic. But no one, for example, says “The African Republic of Egypt” or “The Asian Republic of Egypt” (taking Sinai into consideration), or perhaps even “The Asian African Arab Republic of Egypt”. There is no such thing as defining a country by its geographic location in the constitutions of other countries.
If we consider our history, then the current description of the country should perhaps be the “Pharaonic” Republic of Egypt, which was the case for 3,000 years of its history. But Egypt’s history is extensive and diverse, so it would be a reduction of the state to limit it to a specific historical period of being Arab.
In recent discussions about the constitution, there was a proposal to add the word “Islamic”. The reason being that the definition of a country includes the fact that its people are part of the Arab and Muslim nations. Thus, the constitution, the document that defines the responsibilities of the state, puts us in front of a real dilemma because it makes us responsible for many matters in other countries. For example, since we are members of two nations, then should we be responsible for East Timor’s secession from Indonesia? Or South Sudan from Sudan, even if the South is not at all Muslim or Arab?
In truth, the world only uses the word “Egypt” in foreign languages, and in Arabic it is only referred to as “Misr” as mentioned in the holy Quran. No one ever says “The United Arab Republic” or “The Arab Republic of Egypt”. Therefore, it is important to ponder what we are embarking on, especially since we are producing a constitution by a Constituent Assembly that was elected by the country’s representatives. These representatives are not only responsible for referring to the people what they agree on, but also consulting everyone who has an opinion on the matter.
In essence, the constitution is a definition of identity and character; and secondly a statement of rights and duties; and thirdly an outline of the powers, their relationship to each other, and their responsibilities in the eyes of the people and the world. These three dimensions are not separate but connected and interactive. We cannot claim that the people of Egypt are part of the Arab nation and the Muslim nation, unless these statements have actual meaning and levy a financial and moral cost.
For example, Egypt bore the greater brunt of the Crusade Wars and Al-Nasser Salah El-Din Al-Ayoubi was keen on keeping the road to Egypt always unobstructed because from there came food, money and provisions. At the time, it was not called “Arab Egypt”, and although Egypt was the greatest strategic reserve for the Arab and Islamic nation its sole name was “Egypt”.
“Egypt” and its rulers decided what threats confronted it, and when to intervene in war and peace. At one point in the 19th century, Egypt had no qualms about sending forces to Catholic Mexico and at other times Egypt went to war against Arab Muslim and Christian countries to liberate Arab Muslim Kuwait. But it felt that going to war against NATO in defence of Arab Muslim Iraq or Muslim Afghanistan was too costly. What is certain is that Egypt will not remain silent if it comes under attack, whether by a Buddhist, Shinto or even Muslim or Christian, an Arab or African.
In all honesty, the constitution is not the place for “words” except those that have true meaning in Egyptian reality, dictating responsibilities, rights and duties. And every government and president must take this into account, and avoid using empty slogans.
“The Republic of Egypt” is completely sufficient.