All eyes are on the ballot box as Egypt prepares for the second round of the first post-Mubarak presidential election on June 16-17, a controversial run-off between the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP, the party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood) candidate Mohamed Morsi and Hosni Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, two of the most polarizing candidates in the race who together won only 49 percent of the votes cast in the first stage of polling on May 23-24. Egyptians are now faced with a choice between Islamists—who already hold a parliamentary majority and now stand to gain control of two out of the three branches of government—and a symbol of the former regime and military establishment.  

Against the backdrop of this historic electoral battle, much more is at stake than the country’s highest office, EgyptSource editor Mara Revkin and Egyptian Judge Yussef Auf argue in a new issue brief for the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. While the presidential election certainly represents a critical milestone, or perhaps a setback, in the consolidation of Egypt’s nascent democracy, the campaign season has stolen the spotlight from an equally important process unfolding under the radar:  drafting a new constitution to institutionalize and protect the freedoms envisioned by protesters in Tahrir Square.  Not only will the rewritten constitution have a far-reaching impact on the structure of the future political system and the rights of Egyptian citizens, but it will undoubtedly resonate with other transitioning Arab countries that have long looked to Egypt’s strong judiciary and constitutional tradition as a regional model.  
The stakes of the constitutional process could not be higher, yet the outcome appears increasingly uncertain.  Parliament is failing in its second attempt to form a Constituent Assembly that will write Egypt’s new constitution, as liberal and leftist parties threaten to withdraw their nominees in protest of the expected over-representation of Islamists. Meanwhile, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) may see an opportunity to exploit the conflict over the constitution to its political advantage by codifying a privileged status for the military establishment in the new legal framework. While Egypt’s constitutional process is a necessary and vital stage in consolidating the democratic transition, it is also a road fraught with obstacles that are further dividing Egypt’s political landscape and damaging the prospects for an inclusive national dialogue. Egypt’s future constitution can only be legitimate if its principles reflect consensus and compromise among the cornucopia of interest groups—Islamist, liberal, socialist, revolutionary and secular—that must learn to share power peacefully in a new political environment of unfettered and unpredictable pluralism.
Photo Credit: AP