Obviously, Egypt’s version of the Constitutional Convention is not going as smoothly as everyone might have hoped. The plan was for a Constituent Assembly comprised of Islamists, Christians, and secular deputies to draft and vote on a consensus constitution sometime next January. Things haven’t worked out that way. Greatly outnumbered from the start, the Christians and secular deputies have all resigned in frustration. And, rather than wait till next year, the Assembly has just finished rushing though all 230 provisions of the constitution in a marathon, 16-hour session. The Assembly will present the document to President Morsi tomorrow, and he will then submit it to a national referendum. Why the rush? The Assembly and Morsi want to accomplish all this before the Supreme Constitutional Court has a chance to rule, perhaps as early as Sunday, on the legality of the constitution-drafting process. Meanwhile, pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators are facing off on the streets of Egyptian cities. It all looks very unstable.
Given our own experience, observers in the US may see the struggle between Morsi and the SCC in terms of the rule of law: Morsi is just another strongman trying to stare down an independent judiciary. That’s true as far as it goes, but there’s an added issue people may miss. Article 2 of the draft constitution declares that Sharia is the principal source of legislation in Egypt. This is nothing new; the Mubarak-era constitution contained the same provision. Traditionally, the SCC has had authority to determine whether Egyptian laws comply with Sharia principles and, traditionally, it has adopted a flexible, non-fundamentalist approach to the question. In staring down the SCC now, Morsi and his allies in the Assembly may be laying down a marker for future conflicts with the SCC over Islamic law. The message seems to be this: power dynamics in Egypt have changed fundamentally, and the SCC had better get in line.
This February, Saqi Books will publish The Muslim Brotherhood: From Opposition to Power by Alison Pargeter (University of Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows.
In this authoritative analysis, Alison Pargeter follows the twists and turns of the Muslim Brotherhood as it battled through the years of oppression under authoritarian regimes to finally become a key and legitimate political actor.
From Egypt and Syria to Tunisia and Libya, the Brotherhood and its affiliates are now faced with the complex task of transforming themselves from semiclandestine opposition movements into legitimate political actors and, in some cases, into ruling powers.
Including new chapters on the Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab Spring, this updated edition is the essential guide to understanding the forces shaping the Arab world today.
This December, Oxford University Press will publish Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience by Kimberley Brownlee (University of Manchester). The publisher’s description follows.
Arguing for the moral and legal defensibility of conscientious disobedience, and particularly civil disobedience, this book first examines the morality of conscience and conscientiousness and then the legality of conscientious breach of law.
Part I focuses on the morality of conscience and conscientiousness. These are two comparatively neglected concepts in contemporary moral and legal theory, though they are central to practical debates about the ethics of war, healthcare, and political participation, among others. The book disambiguates the descriptive notion of conscientiousness as sincere conviction from the evaluative notion of conscience as genuine moral responsiveness. This gives rise to a communicative principle of conscientiousness (CPC), according to which sincere moral conviction requires not only that we act consistently with our beliefs and make universal moral judgements, but also that we not seek to evade the consequences of doing so and be willing to communicate our convictions to others.
The CPC informs the ensuing discussion of persons’ rights and duties within a liberal democracy. In contrast with standard liberal theorizing, the book shows that people who engage in the communicative practice of suitably constrained civil disobedience have a better claim to a moral right to conscientious action than do people who engage in non-communicative, private, or evasive ‘conscientious’ objection.
Part II argues that civil disobedience is generally more defensible than personal disobedience. The book explores two putative legal defences – a demands-of-conviction defence and a necessity defence – and argues that each applies more readily to civil disobedience than to personal disobedience. The book responds to concerns about strategic-action, democracy, competition of values, and proportionality, all of which disregard the communicative nature of sincere conviction and underestimate the capacity of democratic law to recognise the legitimacy and importance of values other than literal compliance with the law.
The book concludes by highlighting a parallel between the communicative aims of civil disobedience and the communicative aims of lawful punishment. Only the former may claim to have dialogue ambitions, which raises difficulties for the justifiability of punishing civil disobedience.