Wednesday, April 18, 2012

El beda walla el Farkha: The relationship between a country's president and its constitution

Much debate has been going on over the chronological order of electing a president and establishing a constitution. This is a chicken-and-egg argument where the mass opinion is divided into two groups. There are those who advocate the establishment of the constitution first and foremost. They believe that without a new and improved constitution, any ruling body will be a different version of the old establishment. On the other hand we have those who lobby for electing the president first. They believe that a leader - chosen by the people - is imperative in uniting the diverse local forces to work together on founding the new-era constitution. Again, this is a chick-and-egg debate, which should precede the other is an endless discussion. Partaking in such a discussion will get us no where, except maybe realizing why the chicken crossed the road - to get out of the discussion !

As a long-time pragmatic, I couldn't help but wonder why should there be a correlation between the president and the constitution, more precisely between electing a president and establishing a constitution. By definition, a constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed (copied from Wikipedia). Most probably the constitution specifies the qualifications of presidential candidates and the process by which they are nominated and elected. So I understand that there is an inherit relationship. However, we need to formulate,  agree upon, and publish the constitution before it can be enforced. Now, this argument might appear to advocate that the constitution should be established before electing a president, again chicken-and-egg. Nevertheless, until these governing principles are in place, what is going to happen to the country? Can Egypt just stay on the sidelines of world politics and economy, declining to participate until  clear rules of engagement are defined? I do not think this is possible. It's not like this is a video game where we can press the reset button and just start over. We have to remain an active player to ensure border security and economic stability, even more so as we rely heavily on imports for our day-to-day needs. So the option of putting the country on hold until the constitution is established does not seem to be plausible. So what is the alternative? Those of the "constitution first" mindset have suggested appointing a ruling party/group consisting of prominent politicians representing most of the country's different political temperaments. Yet, why would this group of people lawfully rule the country without an integrated constitution in place, while an elected individual can not? Isn't this the main reason they argue that the constitution must come first. Some people say that having a group of people ruling the country is better, as group members will keep each other honest. Maybe, or maybe not.

The truth of the matter is, no one can predict the outcome of this political experiment. Who among us has participated in or even witness the founding of a constitution ! We are all learning how to live with and partake in the political process. Unfortunately the price of this learning curve is the mistakes that will be made in the pursuit of democracy. Moreover, the next president will have a unique role unlike any other ruler from the past or the future. While heads of states have the responsibility of overseeing governments' efforts in maintaining a firm position within the worldwide arena as they secure the well being of their citizens, our next president will have the burden of shepherding Egypt into the Future. This will be a thankless job, an impossible task of uniting a fragmented society in order to work together tirelessly on an endeavor from which they will not have an immediate gain. This person will not form the new constitution, his role will be to foster an environment where different - and often opposing - points of views can come together for a greater good, albeit while maintaining Egypt's position in the worldwide arena as he secures the well being of the Egyptian people. So whether the constitution should comes first or the presidential elections is a mute discussion. At the end heya kolaha weg-het nazar (a matter of opinion).

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