Tunisian Constitution, Civil Rights as a Basis for Syria Geneva II Talks to Avoid Egyptian like Instability

An issue being seemingly ignored during the negotiations with Syria at the Geneva II talks is the same issue that was ignored in Egypt’s constitution and has potentially caused Egypt to be plagued with instability after the Arab Spring – basic enforceable civil rights for the people including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble, freedom of religion and equal rights for women and men.

On this, three year anniversary of the January 25 Movement in Egypt, it is important to look at why freedom is dramatically lessened in Egypt, and why they experienced a coup or removal of their first elected President Mohamed Morsi, just a month and a year after he was elected. Civil rights should be the first step to form a reformed government in countries previously controlled by dictators because it provides power for the people to address the overreach of the elites previously in charge.

Support for civil rights for the people of Syria or Egypt is not only locally beneficial to the security of Syrian or Egyptian people, but it is important for world security from terrorists who are in opposition to those very same civil rights.

Enforceable civil rights can prevent future conflict and insure transition into democratic rule and rights for the people in the Middle East. It enables the people to have a chance over those who have held power in autocratic countries. Without civil rights, the people are easily overtaken and manipulated by the wealthy elites that have held power for so many years through the dictator. This then leaves the same systems in place and enables the elites to re-frame public debate in their terms and jail or harm opposition.

Few spoke about the need for civil rights first as a guide to the foundation for the new democracies of the Middle East. Now today, Tunisia stands at a very important crossroad to be the democratic example of the Arab world with their new constitution that was passed late Sunday, January 26, 2014, by 200 votes out of 216 in the democratically elected Constituent Assembly. The citizens of Tunisia withstood lots of challenge both economically and ideologically to get to this point.

“But unlike in Egypt, where in the past two years two constitutions have been quickly drafted by appointed committees with little public debate or input, in Tunisia the elected assembly of Islamists, leftists and liberals worked on a detailed road map for their political future,“ said the Guardian Sunday, January 26, 2014 in an article entitled, Tunisians hope constitution’s slow birth will help avoid neighbours’ mistakes.

“The new constitution sets out to make the North African country of 11 million people a democracy, with a civil state whose laws are not based on Islamic law, unlike many other Arab constitutions. An entire chapter of the document, some 28 articles, is dedicated to protecting citizens’ rights, including protection from torture, the right to due process, and freedom of worship. It guarantees equality between men and women before the law and the state commits itself to protecting women’s rights.”

The Tunisian example took patience and has the opportunity to create stability for the people because they have the ability to prevent tyranny and oppression through providing citizens with enforceable rights. However, in Egypt, where elections were called before a carefully crafted, publicly debated constitution was written, the people’s rights have now been squelched again by military rule.

According to an article in Foreign Affairs published February 14, 2013, entitled, Islamists Aren’t the Obstacle, “Egyptian democracy is undermined by the inability of institutions to address citizens’ demands and the impulse of powerful actors to interfere, not by the divide between Islamists and secularists. Institutions in Egypt fail to provide a meaningful forum for debate. As a result, violent street protesters and extremist sheiks are gaining power. Meanwhile, the opposition’s attempted coalition, the National Salvation Front, is losing relevance. Rival actors lack a means through which they can address deteriorating situation, which hinders the government to the extent that Egyptians might tolerate an authoritarian comeback by the military — something that would be unthinkable in Tunisia.”

It is easy for the Western media and others to frame the debate as Islamists versus Secularists, while in reality the debate may not be based on ideologies but on finances and those who wish to control them. Those elites use the lack of personal freedom as a means to insure their own success. It is interesting to note that during the protests in Egypt prior to Morsi being ousted, the Egyptian people were experiencing power outages, energy and fuel shortages which increased hostilities towards the Egyptian government and Morsi.

According to an article in the New York Times on July 10, 2013, Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi, “Not only did police officers seem to disappear, but the state agencies responsible for providing electricity and ensuring gas supplies failed so fundamentally that gas lines and rolling blackouts ‘fed widespread anger and frustration’. “

Then soon after Morsi was ousted power supplies returned to normal and fuel was readily available.

So why did this happen? It was because those who had held power for so long were not prepared to give up their control and there were no policies/rights put in place where the people had more power than the money, contacts and capabilities held by those behind the scenes by those previously involved with the Mubarak regime.

So, one potential contributor to the people of Egypt not being able to really bring about true reform was because the constitutions they created lacked the solid basis of enforceable civil rights. There are many other complexities and differences that contribute to the differences in outcomes of the Arab Spring in Tunisia versus in Egypt including the judicial branch, power of labor and overall power and economic influence of the military in Egypt.

But what if Egyptians had a “Bill of Rights,” similar to Tunisia in their constitution? And the military/police secured that the judicial branch followed the law and the police and military enforced it? How about in Syria? Could this “Bill of Rights” be one of the issues discussed and perhaps agreed to in Geneva II with Syria? One would only hope.

Another interesting thought regarding the Arab Spring was that it has not produced political change in a single oil rich country. Libya is still a work in progress. This too shows the power of economics as it relates to freedom, democracy and civil rights.

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