Who will be the James Madison of Egypt?

February 15th, 2011

The Defense minister acting as the chief of state in Egypt has called together a panel of 8 jurists to put together a new Constitution. The NYT reports:

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister acting as chief of state since the ouster on Friday of President Hosni Mubarak, called together a panel of eight jurists that opposition leaders praised as respected and credible.

Perhaps the most striking choice was Sobih Saleh, an Alexandria appeals lawyer and former member of parliament who is a prominent figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition Islamic group that Mr. Mubarak’s government has long depicted as a terrorist threat. Mr. Saleh was released from detention by the Mubarak security forces just a few days ago.

The committee will be led by Tareq el-Bishri, a prominent former judge known for maintaining his independence of the Mubarak government. He was once thought to be left leaning but is considered be sympathetic to moderate Islamism, legal analysts said, making him a bridge figure between the main Egyptian political factions.

At least one other member of the panel, Maher Samy Youssef, another judge, is a Coptic Christian, Egypt’s principle minority group. The other members are all considered independent, and without known political affiliations: two judges, Hassan El Badrawi and Hatem Bagatou, and three law professors, Mohamed Hassaneim Abdel Al, Mahmoud Atef El Bana and Mohamed Bahey Abou Younis.

Our framers drafted the Constitution during the steamy summer of 1787. How much time will this panel have?

The military has urged the panel to complete its work in just 10 days, a timetable many considered implausible for a complete overhaul. But members of the panel said they were already quickly moving toward a package of smaller changes that might facilitate fair elections and make it easier for a future parliament to further amend the text.

10 days. That’s awfully short. And what does the military want to accomplish?

Among other things the amendments under discussion would eliminate rules stipulating that only the president can initiate amendments; open up eligibility to form parties or run for office; limit the maximum term that elected officials can serve; establish independent judicial oversight of elections; and remove a clause that allows for the so-called emergency law enabling arrest and detention without charges.

Someone should call the James Madison of the Marshall Islands (assuming he is allowed to get involved in these affairs).

Update: It seems the Egyptian Constitutional Convention has something else in common with our Constitutional Convention–no women were invited. Additionally, very few coptic Christians were selected. From the American Spectator:

While the panel includes a member of the Muslim Brotherhood there are scarcely any Coptic Christians on the committee while women have been left off the committee altogether.

The exclusion of Coptic Christians is particularly galling when one considers the New Year’s Massacre of Copts in Alexandria which resulted in the deaths of 21 people. It seems the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood are determined to keep Coptic Christians even more marginalized in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

As to the exclusion of women, one must wonder if the Muslim Brotherhood would have participated in the committee had a woman been named to it.