Setting The Record Straight On Egypt’s Political Transition

The Carter Center issued a report on May 16 expressing concerns about Egypt’s political transition. These included, but were not limited to, a “hastily drafted constitution without an inclusive process,” the “oppression and exclusion” of the Muslim Brotherhood, “limitations on peaceful assembly” and a crackdown on the media. The remarks ended with the now-stale call for “inclusion” as well as ending the government crackdown on “peaceful dissenting forces including the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Students of history are taught that writing it is never a matter of collecting unalloyed facts. The narrative is inevitably colored by the author’s perspective. The Carter Center’s report is no exception, although it is nonetheless odd that such a venerable institution has compiled a report so far removed from the reality in Egypt today.

The post-June 30 constitution is so hastily written it took months of drafting, wrangling and compromise. The document was drafted by a committee of 50. Almost every faction of society was represented, including women, religious minorities, labor unions, liberals and leftists, and some for the first time ever, such as Nubians, the Sinai Bedouins and the handicapped. Mainstream Islam was represented by Al-Azhar University, while the Salafist Nour Party also participated. The Muslim Brotherhood were invited but declined to join. Nevertheless, the organization’s ideology was represented. Dr. Kamal Helbawi was appointed deputy head of the committee of 50. Dr. Helbawi is a former member of the Brotherhood, who has renounced the group but remains committed to its principles.

It is unclear from the report when exactly the Carter Center’s visit to Egypt was, but anyone spending a few days in Cairo anytime during the past few months could not have missed the anything-but-peaceful demonstrations that included the torching of university campuses. The mission should have checked with the hundreds of foreign correspondents in Egypt who have been writing freely about that.

Members of the mission should also perhaps have met with Dr. Saad El din Ibrahim, founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center. Earlier this month, Dr. Ibrahim called into a local cable TV station. He had just returned from Istanbul, where he had met with a number of Muslim Brotherhood members. Dr. Ibrahim was carrying back with him a message of reconciliation which he urged be considered. The Brotherhood members he met with articulated a change in tactics, after failing to achieve their goals through violence. The Brotherhood had hoped that Egyptians, weary after three tumultuous years, would demand Mohamed Morsi’s return in exchange for a halt to terror. But the Egyptian people refused to be intimidated.