Analysts have already noted the extent to which articles in Egypt’s new draft constitution protect and expand the powers of the Egyptian military. Most importantly, the document grants the armed forces the ability to veto the president’s choice of defense minister for the next eight years and the right to try civilians in military courts.
To understand the outsized role of the military in shaping both the current political process and the new Egyptian regime, however, one need only look as far as the draft constitution’s preamble. The grandiose statement goes almost comically out of its way to elevate the sanctity of the armed forces and cement the institution’s narrative about Egypt’s past.
As the preamble grandly moves through a history of Egypt, it makes sure to declare that the “modern Egyptian state” was founded “with a national army as its pillar.”
Next, it notes the sacrifices made by Egyptians in their revolutions, “until our patriotic army delivered victory to the sweeping popular will in the “Jan 25 – June 30” Revolution that called for bread, freedom and human dignity within a framework of social justice, and brought back the homeland’s free will.”
The preamble goes on to link the military directly to the “Jan 25 – June 30” Revolution twice more. The revolution “supports the strong bond between the Egyptian people and their patriotic army that bore the trust and responsibility of protecting the homeland.” The revolution was also “a unique revolution,” in part because of “the manner in which the people’s army protected the popular will.”
Finally, the statement takes care to thank the armed forces for their historic victories in Egypt’s greatest battles, “including driving off the 1956 Tripartite Aggression and the glorious victory of October that granted President Sadat a special place in our recent history.”
Apparently, the committee members that drafted the constitution believe Egyptians owe much of their state, pride, and revolution to the military and its heroic efforts. They seem to have overlooked the armed forces’ support for decades of dictatorship and the series of brutal crackdowns on protesters since the revolution in January 2011.
Of course, the preamble also devotes a number of lines to stirring language about freedoms and human rights, including proclamations such as “We believe in democracy as a path, a future, and a way of life; in political multiplicity; and in the peaceful transfer of power. We affirm the right of the people to make their future. They, alone, are the source of authority. Freedom, human dignity, and social justice are a right of every citizen.”
This contradictory mix of declaring democratic principles and glorifying the military in the preamble is then reflected in the draft constitution’s articles. When compared to the document written by an Islamist-majority in 2012, the new draft includes stronger protections for human rights while simultaneously granting more expansive powers to the military and security forces.
Unfortunately, the latter seems more likely to influence the trajectory of Egyptian politics going forward.
After all, how meaningful are constitutional rights on paper when the very security forces violating those rights have also been given constitutional protections from civilian oversight and accountability?