The question regarding the constitution at the moment is whether the new constitution will be on par with modern world constitutions and whether it will keep abreast with the spirit of the age of the January 25th Revolution
With a mixture of optimism, frustration and weariness Egyptians await the disclosure of the outcome of the 100-member constituent assembly. The question that poses itself at the moment is whether the new constitution will be on par with modern world constitutions and whether it will keep abreast with the spirit of the age and meet Egyptians’ aspirations in the wake of the January 25th Revolution vis-à-vis all facets of development, and will it aid Egypt in its progress towards a better future and in catching up on what it missed under the reign of the ousted regime. In addition to detailing authorities, powers and laws, will it tackle - like any modern constitution - the chief developmental topics that ensure sustainable and effective development? Will the constitution address issues such as the internet and citizen’s access thereof—being a manifestation of freedom of communication and expression—particularly after the significant role it played in the downfall of the Mubarak regime and will the constitution strengthen the internet’s role in the areas of commerce and industry?
For instance, will the constitution address issues such as the Internet and citizen’s access to the Internet - which is a component of freedom of communication and expression - particularly after the significant role the internet played in the downfall of the Mubarak regime. Will the new constitution strengthen and encourage Internet’s role in the areas of commerce and industry? Will the new constitution give voice to Egypt’s youth and support the role of civil society as a partner in building the state? Will the constitution protect our rich heritage of antiquities, cultures, languages and creativity? Will it prioritize science, education and the creation of an advanced society founded on knowledge? Will it ensure the full participation of individuals with special needs in all state affairs?
Will we learn from countries such as Namibia, which explicitly included in its constitution - post independence from South Africa in 1990 - clauses that focus on the protecting the environment? Namibia was
one of the first countries in the world to include the protection of the environment as a component of their constitution. After 22 years of ruthless civil war, Namibians became aware of the importance of environmental resources with respect to the future of their newly-independent nation, and the vast potential offered by environmental and ecological resources for boosting development and the economy.They were particularly aware that it was imperative to protect the land which they had fought tooth and nail to recover from South Africa - unlike Egypt’s approach to the Sinai which was converted into a “piggybank” for a small group of investors and entrepreneurs.
Ecuador is another example worth noting; its 2008 constitution contains articles providing for the legal protection of nature and the ecological system. Another interesting example is the new Moroccan constitution of 2011, which - despite the difficulties and pressing problems faced by the region - its drafters devoted great attention to safeguarding and improving the environment. Article 31 of the Moroccan constitution stipulates equal access for citizens to
water, to a healthy living environment and to sustainable development. Article 35 of the constitution stipulates that: “The state must work to achieve sustainable human development that will underpin social justice and the preserving the national natural wealth and the rights of future generations.” The Moroccan constitution further stipulates the establishment of an Environmental Council, side-by-side with the Economic and Social Councils, which must be consulted on all decisions related to the economy’s general orientation and on issues of sustainable development in the Kingdom of Morocco.Our concern with such a constitutional article that caters to the environment and its protection in Egypt could serve as a critical juncture with regard to the accomplishment of the aspired vision of coveted development for Egypt
Our interest in such a constitutional article that caters to protecting the environment in Egypt could serve as a critical differentiation point with regard to accomplishing the vision for development aspired to by Egypt. Caring for the environment is more then the mere protection of the right of citizens to: a clean environment, access to resources, and participation in the management of those resources - as was stipulated in the previous constitution which only dealt with such obvious issues such as sanitation - which I find shameful in this day and age, since it reduces environmental problems simply to an issue of garbage and sanitation. Environmental issues must be considered within the framework of sustainable development which links the environment to a host of topics such as: air pollution which particularly afflicts our major cities, the impact of the environment on health, housing, the management of sea resources, the desertification that gravely affects us in Egypt and has made Egypt one of the countries worst hit by desertification, the management of water resources after decades of bickering with Nile River riparian countries, sewage problems, the management of agriculture, the disposal of waste - particularly hazardous waste, the greenhouse effect that is threatening the Nile Delta and coastal cities in Egypt with flooding. In addition, we must focus on preserving the rich ecological diversity of creatures in Egypt - which was dealt a severe blow during the past century which saw the extinction of several species such as specific types of hippopotamus, crocodile, lions marine turtle and scores of plants. All of these issues must be included and addressed a in comprehensive framework to develop a sustainable environmental protection and preservation plan.
It is imperative to make the necessary effort to promote awareness of the impact of the disappearance of plant and animal species on the ecological system, which in turn directly affects our daily lives. For example, poaching marine turtles that feed on jellyfish in some coastal Egyptian cities has led to a ballooning number of jellyfish which kill fish and severely jeopardize fish resources and the livelihoods of fishermen. The same applies to the dumping of factory waste in the sea and the River Nile – killing of species and having unintended consequences that will impact us all. Extra care and attention must be paid to wildlife reserves in Egypt. There are nearly thirty natural reserves housing scores of different species of flora and fauna, including some reserves which are registered on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Natural World Heritage list. Most of us are oblivious to these reserves’ importance; which is on par with our ignorance of the invaluable treasure of coral reefs in the Red Sea - considered indisputably the most beautiful and richest anywhere in the world and which require thousands of years in order to take shape but can be destroyed in a matter of seconds at the hands of an irresponsible diver or as the result of a shipwreck.
In short, concern and interest in issues like environmental in Egypt and incorporating these protections into the constitution will sustain a decent living for Egyptian citizens through the creation of an integrated environment, will provide real job opportunities, and create a new kind of environmental and domestic tourism. In addition, protecting the environment will be critical to ensuring food sufficiency for Egypt, for protecting its northern coastline andAlthough the proposed article does not encompass all facets of environmental protection and sustainable development, yet it is a commendable endeavor on behalf of Egyptian civil society organizations that may provide the preliminary vision for the new constitution protecting the areas of the Nile Delta that are below sea level. We must insist that the constitutional text dealing with the protection of the environment in all its aspects, is not the end of the journey; rather, the new legislators must renew, revise and improve environmental laws in tandem with the requirements of the national vision for Egypt; and, government institutions and civil society organizations must be empowered to implement this vision, otherwise, we will be left with like a body without a soul. In addition, laws and projects must be implemented in light of Egypt’s commitments under an array of key international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and Agenda 21 for sustainable development, among other treaties.
Some civil society organizations in Egypt have undertaken numerous initiatives to discuss and lobby for the inclusion of one or more constitutional articles in the Egyptian constitution. For example, the excellent initiative launched by the Habi Center for Environmental Rights - with the assistance of approximately nine other non-governmental organizations - to draft a proposal for the amendment of Article 59 of the previous Egyptian constitution. The proposed new
article stipulates: “An appropriate environment is an inalienable right for citizens, and the three partners in the development process (civil, government and private sectors) are responsible for the protection thereof, and the state is responsible for guaranteeing access to environmental resources, guaranteeing their [civil, government and private sectors] participation in their management and supplying the necessary information for these purposes. The law includes mechanisms for the protection of the River Nile and ensures citizens’ rights to freshwater – which all lead to the sustainability of environmental resources. Lawsuits affecting or dealing with environmental rights (civil, criminal or administrative claims) are not subject to the statute of limitations.” Although the proposed constitutional article does not encompass all facets of environmental protection and sustainable development, it it is a commendable attempt by Egyptian civil society organizations that may provide a preliminary vision for sustainable environmental protection in the new constitution. This article is merely an attempt to provide an example of what we want from the drafters of the new constitution: not only should the new constitution be politically convenient, it should also serve the inclusive and sustainable development of Egypt.
Abdallah Diwan graduated from the College of Law at the Alexandria University, Egypt. He also has a Masters in Business Administration. He is active in the area of Youth Development and focuses on youth development at the Qatar Foundation. He is the Chairman of the Egyptian Institute of Youth and Development. Follow him on Twitter @abdallahdiwan