Part II of My Detailed Response to Khaled Fahmy’s 32 Reasons Why to Vote No

Dec 05

This is the second in my series of postings in response to Professor Khaled Fahmy’s “32 Reasons to Vote No” on the draft constitution.

8. أعترض على المادة 48 التي تنص على:

“حرية الصحافة والطباعة والنشر وسائر وسائل الإعلام مكفولة. وتؤدى رسالتها بحرية واستقلال لخدمة المجتمع والتعبير عن اتجاهات الرأي  العام والإسهام فى تكوينه وتوجيهه فى إطار المقومات الأساسية للدولة والمجتمع والحفاظ على الحقوق

والحريات والواجبات العامة، واحترام حرمة الحياة الخاصة للمواطنين ومقتضيات الأمن القومى؛ ويحظر وقفها أو غلقها أو مصادرتها إلا بحكم قضائى.

والرقابة على ما تنشره وسائل الإعلام محظورة، ويجوز استثناء أن تفرض عليها رقابة محددة فى زمن الحرب أو التعبئة العامة.”

 

سبب اعتراضي: 1. عدم النص على حظر عقوبة الحبس في جرائم النشر؛ 2. الإشارة، مرة أخرى، إلى مقتضيات الأمن

القومي” دون تعريفها؛ 3. عدم تعريف “المقومات الأساسية  … للمجتمع” التي تؤدي الصحافة رسالتها في إطارها.

 Again, the first objection is an one that does not attack the substance of what is protected, but a claim that it does not offer enough protection.  Again, constitutions can sometimes adopt mandatory rules, which operate either as a “ceiling” on a right”or as a “floor” on a right.  If a provision is the latter, then the scope of the right can be increased by legislation; if it is the former, the legislature is disabled from offering more protection than that provided in the text.  Rarely, a constitution might provide the entire content of a right.  Looked at from this more abstract perspective, this provision provides a floor for the protection of the rights of the press, not a ceiling.  So, it can be supplemented by future legislation in the direction desired by Professor Fahmy.

The second objection is the “national security” exception.  I too share Khaled’s reservation/objection to this limitation, but does Khaled have a solution to this problem?  I don’t know of any legal system in the world that does not recognize a “national security” exception to the exercise of certain political rights, such as freedom of the press.  The only effective means of constraining this exception is to have an effective opposition that at the same time is  loyal to the constitutional order.  An opposition that is openly calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order, on the other hand, will have a hard time arguing before a court that limiting its rights do not fall under this exception, except by arguing that they represent “no imminent threat.”  That is the approach in the US: speech that incites to political violence or the overthrow of the regime is protected only to the extent that it does not represent an imminent threat to violence or overthrow of the regime.  It is impossible to avoid judgment here, and the real objection is that “We don’t trust our institutions to apply these exceptions fairly.”  Well, that trust can only come with time and some degree of mutual toleration and presumptions of good faith.  If we assume bad faith on the part of those with whom we disagree, we will end up in civil war and a restoration of dictatorship.

As for the third objection, this certainly limits press freedom, but there is no jurisdiction in the world that does not have limitations on press freedom in one way or another.  Significantly, however, this seems to be a self-executing provision so that the limitations on the government’s power of censorship does not require a law before it can be enforced by the court.  On the other hand, while the legislature will have the power to issue rules regulating the press in order to give content to what the constitution leaves undefined, courts will have a say in the matter because the constitution does not leave that exclusively in the hands of the legislature.  So, to conclude, I think this provision is definitely a net positive, and although it is not perfect, it can be made better over time.  Therefore, I would not say that whatever deficiencies are in it are enough to warrant scuttling the draft.

9. أعترض على المادة 49 التي تنص على:

“حرية إصدار الصحف وتملكها، بجميع أنواعها، مكفولة بمجرد الإخطار لكل شخص مصرى طبيعى أو اعتبارى.

وينظم القانون إنشاء محطات البث الإذاعى والتليفزيونى ووسائط الإعلام الرقمى وغيرها.”

سبب اعتراضي: عدم النص على حرية إنشاء محطات البث الإذاعي والتليفزيوني ووسائط الإعلام الرقمي.

 Again, I assume Khaled supports the first portion of the article, which allows any Egyptian natural person or company to own and operate print media simply by filing an application.  I am certain that this is a great step forward for press freedom in Egypt.  With respect to radio, television and internet, these media themselves, to come into existence, requires government involvement. For example, the government needs to distribute licenses to use spectrum so that these services can be delivered effectively.  At a minimum, therefore, the government must have the power to coordinate how non-print media will be delivered so that one has a functioning radio, tv and internet system.  One can’t simply have a system whereby radio stations can operate simply by providing notice to the government because that would result in conflicting broadcast channels. The question is how they will be regulated, and again, this is a question in the first instance that is left to the legislature, properly in my opinion.  As for any regulation that purports to limit the substantive content of what is broadcast, that of course needs to be monitored primarily through ordinary politics as expressed in representative institutions, and ultimately, the courts will have to decide the extent to which future substantive regulations, if any, are consistent with other rights provisions in the constitution. 

Again, it seems to me that no outcome is guaranteed, and that the Egyptian people will be free to determine the contents of press freedom in a relatively open and competitive political process. It is unrealistic, even if desirable (and I’m not sure that it is) to expect that all these decisions could be resolved in a constitution.

10. أعترض على المادة 64 التي تنص، فيما تنص على أنه “لا يجوز فرض أى عمل جبرا  إلا بمقتضى قانون.”

سبب اعتراضي: المادة بصياغتها الحالية تفتح المجال للسخرة.

Although I recognize the theoretical possibility that Khaled points to, one is justified in asking how plausible this objection really is? Does anyone really expect a return to the system of corvee labor?  This strikes me as a phantom menace, unless one believes that there is a political party in Egypt which believes that corvee labor is a core part of its platform.  Moreover, if taken too far, Khaled’s objection might suggest that the government would not have the right to impose maximum wages on certain professionals, for example, physicians working in the public health sector.  I would assume that if one is a doctor in a government hospital, one is obliged to work a certain number of hours, and one is prohibited from accepting any private compensation from patients using that facility, except to the extent permitted by law.  Is that really corvee labor or a substantial interference in their economic freedom?  Of course public sector doctors are underpaid, but this is a structural problem related to public finance.  Khaled’s objection could reasonably provide employees of the public sector, such as doctors, a right to change the terms of their employment unilaterally on the grounds that they are being subject to requisitioned labor in violation of the constitution.

11. أعترض على المادة 70 التي تنص على:

“لكل طفل، فور الولادة، الحق فى اسم مناسب، ورعاية أسرية، وتغذية أساسية، ومأوى، وخدمات صحية، وتنمية دينية ووجدانية ومعرفية.

وتلتزم الدولة برعايته وحمايته عند فقدانه أسرته، وتكفل حقوق الطفل المعاق وتأهيله واندماجه فى المجتمع.

ويحظر تشغيل الطفل، قبل تجاوزه سن الإلزام التعليمى، فى أعمال لا تناسب عمره، أو تمنع استمراره فى التعليم.

ولا يجوز احتجاز الطفل إلا لمدة محددة، وتوفر له المساعدة القانونية، ويكون احتجازه فى مكان مناسب؛ يراعى فيه الفصل بين الجنسين، والمراحل العمرية، ونوع الجريمة، والبعد عن أماكن احتجاز البالغين.”

وسبب اعتراضي: 1. المادة لم تحدد سن الطفل على الرغم من وجود تحديد واضح فى نصوص قانوني 12 لسنة 1996  و126 لسنة 2008 (قانون الطفل) والدستور السابق ألا تقل عن 18 سنة؛ 2. المادة لم تحظر عمل الطفل منذ الميلاد حتى تجاوز مرحلة الطفولة على الإطلاق بل منعت فقط تشغيل الطفل في أعمال لا تناسب عمره دون تحديد هذه المهن؛ 3. المادة لم تشر من بعيد أو قريب لتجريم العنف ضد الأطفال.

 I don’t understand why the constitutional text needs to include an explicit age of majority if it already has a well-defined meaning in Egyptian law.  This is part of the problem of an overly positivist legal culture that assumes that the law is only a series of commands with no internal moral rationale to it.  Therefore, if it does not specify everything, there must be something wrong with it.  No set of positive rules can cover everything, but why would one cover something expressly when it is already set out in law elsewhere?  Here for example, there is a general prohibition against child labor until the child has reached the age at which a child would normally have completed primary school. (I don’t know if that is the constitutional minimum or it includes middle school as well). It has a partial carve out for age appropriate work prior to completion of primary school, I assume, because of the reality that a highly agrarian population still depends on children to participate in the rural work force.  The solution to this problem is not in the constitution, but economic development.  As for the third objection, this is a detailed question of family law, and the rights of parents in overseeing the upbringing of their children.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think  there is much of a consensus in Egypt to ban corporal punishment as a legitimate tool of discipline in the public schools, much less by parents to their kids.  Hoping for something like that in the constitution does not appear very realistic.  But, it is something the constitution would permit to be adopted by appropriate legislation, provided it is found to be consistent with the rights of parents.  I note that even in Canada, parents still have the right to apply corporal punishment to their children, unless it constitutes abuse.  When corporal punishment descends into abuse is determined on a case-by-case basis.  It is not absurd for the Egyptian constitution to adopt the same approach.

12. أعترض على المادة 74 التي تنص على:

“سيادة القانون أساس الحكم فى الدولة.

واستقلال القضاء وحصانة القضاة ضمانتان أساسيتان لحماية الحقوق والحريات.”

سب اعتراضي: عدم تضمين المادة لأية إجراءات تفصيلية تضمن استقلال القضاء.

I’m not sure what to make of this objection: essentially, Khaled wants more detail on who judicial independence will be assured.  The problem is that “judicial independence” is a complicated and a contested contest.  The US constitution does it through life tenure, but many US scholars of constitutional law now believe that life-tenure is a bad rule.  In short, there is no clear-cut answer on how to operationalize judicial independence, but Khaled’s objection only makes sense if we know what particular institutional arrangements further judicial independence in the specific context of a transitional democracy.  A judiciary whose powers are too great are also a danger to democracy, and the reckless behavior of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court since the transition began is exhibit number one in the case against judicial independence, especially, in the context of a transition period.  I would also ask you to take a look at early American history, where Thomas Jefferson instituted a judicial purge as part of the transition from a Federalist regime to a Democratic-Republican one.  So, in my opinion, there is nothing inherently wrong in making a commitment to judicial independence, but leaving the details to be worked out over time. Indeed, the one thing we should not be doing through this constitution is closing the door to future changes and adaptations in light of experience.  Accordingly, there is a lot to be said in praise of having open-textured provisions on something so important as the role of the judiciary.

13. أعترض على المادة 81 التي تنص على:

“الحقوق والحريات اللصيقة بشخص المواطن لا تقبل تعطيلا ولا انتقاصا.

ولا يجوز لأى قانون ينظم ممارسة الحقوق والحريات أن يقيدها بما يمس أصلها وجوهرها.

وتُمارس الحقوق والحريات بما لا يتعارض مع المقومات الواردة فى باب  الدولة والمجتمع بهذا الدستور.”

سبب اعتراضي: الجملة الأخيرة تتتعارض في معناها مع الجملتين السابقتين.

There is no contradiction, but rather a limitation.  Khaled is right to point out that the rights and freedoms provided are only sacrosanct against parliament to the extent they do not violate the provisions set out in Part I of the Constitution, but the objection is not logical; it is substantive.  Presumably, Khaled does not support the substantive provisions set out in Part I of the constitution.  That is a perfectly respectable position to take: it is no mystery that this constitution does not provide the full set of rights one would find in an international human rights treaty or the run of the mill, post-WWII constitutions.  But they may be a menu of rights that most Egyptians find appropriate.  And as I said before, because notions of “what constitutes the Egyptian family” is a moving target, and will be answered by law, these restrictions could ultimately become quite insignificant.  But for that to happen, the social and economic context in which the family in Egyptian life is produced and reproduced would have to change dramatically.  The most important means for affecting that change is not legal, but economic.  As for the logical point, one finds this strategy in other constitutions. The Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides, for example, states the following:

9.1. In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec. In this respect, the scope of the freedoms and rights, and limits to their exercise, may be fixed by law.

So, in Quebec, the scope of a person’s rights is automatically qualified by the end to which they are being used. Of course, Quebec is a liberal jurisdiction, and Egypt is not, or at least, is not yet a liberal jurisdiction.  It could very well become one in a generation if we are lucky, but we cannot ignore the fact that at the present time, it is not a liberal society, but is instead a very conservative society in which the role of a particular conception of the family is central, not only ideologically, but also for the survival of many Egyptians.

14. أعترض على المادة 82 التي تنص على:

“تتكون السلطة التشريعية من مجلس النواب ومجلس الشورى.

ويمارس كل منهما سلطاته على النحو المبين فى الدستور.”

سبب اعتراضي: لا أجد ضرورة لمجلس الشورى، فلا هذه المادة ولا المواد التالية، أوضحت دوره بدقة ولا طريقة تميزه عن مجلس النواب.

 I agree that having an upper chamber is probably a stupid idea.  But countries survive, and even flourish, with lots of stupid ideas. The question is not whether it is stupid, but whether it potentially destructive because it could lead to entrenchment of a privileged minority or could otherwise be used to subvert democratic decision making, as is often the case in the United States.

15. أعترض على المادة 129 التي تنص على:

“يشترط فى المترشح لعضوية مجلس الشورى أن يكون مصريا، متمتعا بحقوقه المدنية والسياسية، حاصلا على إحدى شهادات التعليم العالى على الأقل، وألا تقل سنه يوم فتح باب الترشح عن خمس وثلاثين سنة ميلادية.”

سبب اعتراضي: لا أرى المنطق وراء اشتراط حصول عضو مجلس الشورى على شهادة عليا

I agree that this is stupid, cannot be justified and is insulting to non-university graduates insofar as it suggests they have a diminished capacity to participate in governing the state.  I assume Khaled also finds equally objectionable the requirement that members of Majlis al-Nuwwab must be high school graduates. In the end, however, these are largely symbolic insults, and of little practical harm since I doubt that any successful candidate to either legislative house would lack these formal credentials.  Hopefully, if this constitution is adapted, it will be some of the first provisions to be amended.

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