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Amal and Afaf: Egypt's Revolutionary Underdogs Deserve an Inclusive Constitution

Amal, whose name means "hope" in Arabic, is a 40-something-year-old Muslim woman, living in Cairo. She cleans multiple apartments in the richest neighborhoods in the city for 70LE ($10) per job. She commutes throughout the city's usually congested traffic on public transport, which has been impeded by limited fuel. When Amal's son was beaten by Egyptian police to the point of being hospitalized two months ago, she stayed home to look after him. Yet even before then, Amal never cared much for the Muslim Brotherhood, despite her moderate conservative dress and religious viewpoints, and hardly saw them as prophets who would save her or Egypt. For Amal, the Brotherhood were tactful politicians who made promises she was too savvy to believe.

Not too far away in Alexandria, Afaf, a 60-year-old Coptic school administrator, fears for her son's future in Egypt. All of her brothers and sisters managed to emigrate out of Egypt years ago, leaving her to care for her ailing mother, husband, and unemployed son. She too was savvy enough to understand that her country's politics mattered to her life, but more importantly for her, they mattered to her son's future. She never supported Morsi and the Brotherhood simply because they did not recognize her as an equal--not only because she is a woman, but also because she is a Copt.

Like all Egyptian citizens, Amal and Afaf want clear guarantees of their rights--guarantees missing from the constitution written seven months ago. As John Rawls ultimately argues in Political Liberalism, they should seek leaders who would put themselves in the worn-out shoes of average Egyptians when writing a document in which they would entrust their lives and the lives of their children. This is what they deserve, but this is not what they got.

Egyptians now have a second chance to write such a constitution. They should collectively decide the religious or ideological nature of their state, yet at the same time unequivocally state in the written text of the Constitution overarching principles guaranteeing the liberty and equality of individual citizens irrespective of their gender, religion, or race, which Egypt's suspended constitution and even its 1971 predecessor only ambiguously protected. Surely, in a country where divergent ideologies run deep, it will be no small feat for politicians to place themselves in the shoes of every Egyptian citizen. Still, there is no reason a Muslim majority nation cannot or should not guarantee the same rights to women and minorities as other nations throughout the world. To condemn Amal and Afaf to less than their fair share of rights is condescending and unacceptable.

In a country of 85 million people, the writing of Egypt's constitution should allow for Egypt's diverse civilian voices to speak for themselves. The military's press conference announcing its road map indicated at least a willingness for this inclusion, yet much remains to be desired. For one, while the Egyptian judiciary appears to be the only functional civilian institution left in Egypt, their role should be limited to translating the interests and desires of the people into constitutional language. Egyptians must themselves take the long, tough road to negotiate and bargain through the writing and ratifying of their foundational document. Throughout this process, the least advantaged members of society must also be heard and their rights guaranteed. This is the surest way to make Egypt's constitution inclusive and durable.

Second, while there may be a fantastical notion amongst some of Egypt's political elite that the Islamist ideology has overnight entirely dissipated from Egyptian politics, this is hardly the case. The Brotherhood's founder Hassan Al-Banna was assassinated by the British on the eve of Egypt's 1952 Revolution, yet the organization has entrenched itself in politics until today. Therefore, inclusion - for both moral and practical considerations - should not pre-exclude Islamists. However, the massive protests and ultimate overthrow of their government should have taught Islamists, as it similarly taught Mubarak and his ilk, this important lesson: democracy must be built not only on popular sovereignty but also on the guarantee of substantive equality and liberty for all. And it should be clear to the world by now that Egyptians will accept nothing short of democracy.

Surely, there are still many unanswered questions that Egyptians will have to address when embarking on another attempt to write their founding document, including the religious nature of their state; the definitive role of their military in politics; the judiciary's independence and its stronger commitment to the rule of law; the necessary reform of their dysfunctional police; the economy's restructuring and commitment to social justice; but perhaps most important, and ignored by the Brotherhood, are the inclusive rights afforded to women and religious minorities.

Amal and Afaf's voices and interests should and must be heard in the Egyptian constitution-making process if Egypt is to stick up for the underdog and be faithful to its revolutionary spirit.

Mina E. Khalil, Visiting Assistant Professor of Law, American University in Cairo. Sadaf Jaffer, Doctoral Candidate, Harvard University Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

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