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Via The Arabist , I found this primer on the new Egyptian constitution, by one Zaid Al-Ali at Open Democracy . Very thorough, and plausibly seeking to lay out the good news and the bad, from a broadly liberal perspective. The summation:

Altogether, in comparison with Egypt’s constitutional traditions, the new text is not the disaster that its detractors claim it is . . . It is also clear that Egypt’s constitutional reform is far from over. The coming parliamentary elections will determine not only how the text will be applied, but also its prospects for surviving the coming period.

Regarding the Islamist content:

. . . but the elections brought an Islamic majority to parliament and a president who is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, which considers that religion is the answer. Their beliefs were translated into specific constitutional provisions which some in the opposition camp have alleged establish a religious state in violation of a commitment to maintain the existence of a “civil state” (see below). A close reading of the new constitution does not support that allegation, although there is some worrying wording that is in need of more clarity. In summary however, the constitution builds on the notion that Egypt is a religiously inspired state, but does not actually establish a religious state per se.

Reflecting the author’s liberal orientation and comparative-constitutionalist chops:

. . . constitutions in many post-revolutionary societies are often used to promote and defend values that are not always necessarily in line with the majority’s values. Strong constitutional protections can often spearhead a positive change in society . . . A case in point is the abolition of the death penalty in South Africa despite the fact that it was and remains very popular in many circles.

One particular devil in the details:

The final draft however overturned whatever progress might have been made by explicitly stating that civilians can be tried by military courts for crimes that “harm the armed forces” (article 198).

There’s more about the worrisome process for drafting and establishing the constitution, and about presidential powers. RTWT.

I’m not very familiar with the field of Comparative Constitutionalism (a sensible professor I met at Skidmore College, Beau Breslin, has some books on the subject I mean to get to eventually), but articles like this make one understand its importance, and why Americans studying their own Constitution might benefit from it as well. And incidentally, one of the best defenses of our Constitution from the criticisms typically brought against it is a single chapter penned by our Jim Ceaser, at the end of his still- 100% essential Liberal Democracy and Political Science .

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