In January this year time caught up with Hosni Mubarak. For decades, all visible opposition in Egypt had been blocked. The country’s political parties’ activities had been curtailed. Professional federations had been disbanded. Labour unions were controlled by regime lackeys. Government departments and universities had their political security controlled by the police. As a result Mubarak’s regime was incapable of addressing the challenges faced by the community. Perhaps inevitably, renewed popular forces emerged that swept him away.
However, every regime has a legitimacy. An assault against the regime means an assault against the legitimacy on which it is based. This creates a need for a new legitimacy, responsive to the demands of the new system and its political and social relations. This is why the formulation of a new constitution following the demise of Egypt’s old regime was a necessity.
The revolutionary force that overthrew Mubarak was a popular movement. It did not have the organisational and institutional leadership to take power and replace the regime of the president, and so this fell to the army. In other words, political power was transferred to the supreme military council on the basis of revolutionary, not constitutional, legitimacy.
On the basis of this, the army declared its support for the Egyptian people, its acquisition of a lawful mandate to rule during a transitionary period, and its determination to protect the gains and foster the aspirations of the people. They issued a statement confirming that their assumption of power would be for a limited period of six months, and that the constitution was to be suspended (not set aside) and then amended. Meanwhile, the sources of legislative authority – the people’s assembly and consultative council – were dissolved.
At this point, it is essential that the constitutional political institutions are rebuilt along democratic lines. This is the task of the committee charged with amending the 1971 constitution, of which I am chairman.
On Saturday a referendum was held that put before the Egyptian people the committee’s various amendments to the 1971 constitution that would return it to its former position until a new constitution reflecting the political situation could be drawn up.
Had the majority of the Egyptian people voted no to the amendments, the supreme military council would have been free to decide what type of action to take, and what road to follow. But the majority of Egyptians have voted yes. The implication of this is that the supreme military council is now obliged, by the popular will, to follow the map proposed by the amendments for the transitional period: first, elections of both the lower and higher houses of parliament must be held within two to three months; once convened, the elected members of both houses must select a constitutional assembly of 100 members to draft a new constitution; presidential elections will follow, and the elected president is obliged to present the draft constitution to another referendum within a year.
The popular movement recently witnessed in Egypt has thus produced a number of significant and ongoing results: the first of these is the overthrow of Mubarak and his family. His downfall means that a regime has fallen and the state must be changed. Furthermore, many of the regime’s leading figures have also been ousted. These include the group of businessmen associated with it, the policy committee of the National party and the supporters of Gamal Mubarak. It was they who controlled the entire political system for the last 10 years, without facing any noticeable opposition.
The second result is the demise of the political influence of the police. This influence had turned the police force away from providing public security for more than 20 years. Egyptians are well aware that almost all the various departments of state had been penetrated by the police and were subject to them.
The third result is the appearance of a new generation of young people, sweeping like a tidal wave into the heart of the political life of the country. As the political institutions are rebuilt on new democratic foundations, it is a generation whose impact will be evident in the coming months and years.
Tarek El-Bishry, a judge and chairman of the committee set up to propose constitutional changes after the Egyptian revolution of January 2011.