Is Egypt’s new constitution, ratified by a popular referendum in January, an advance toward democracy? Speaking at a recent forum hosted by AUC’s School of Global Affairs and Public Policy,Mona Zulficar, deputy chair of the fifty-member Constituent Assembly that drafted the document, said that by enshrining rights for all citizens, the constitution protects Egypt from the dangers of sectarianism. Ibrahim El-Houdaiby, director of the Al-Shorouk Research Unit in Cairo, argued that the constitution safeguards institutions rather than people—specifically, the country’s powerful armed forces, which last year overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. El-Houdaiby pointed to provisions that allow for military trials, the lack of oversight on the military’s budget, and the inability of parliament to hold the military accountable. The constitution, he said, reflects a movement that is “turning the civic state into a military state, in attempts to make the civic state not a religious one.”
When the 2011 uprisings spread across the Middle East, many wondered if Turkey would become a model for Islam and democracy in the Arab world. Koray Çalışkan, associate professor of politics at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, points out that Turkey is undergoing a shift of its own. Over the past few years, he argues, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have consolidated power and have been using the judicial system to enforce increasingly conservative policies. In a lecture at AUC in November, Çalışkan said that the Turkish government had engineered formal changes, such as allowing the dual court system to suspend the constitution, and informal changes, such as the increasing autonomy of state bureaucracies, the politicization of the judiciary, and broader interpretations of law. “Now we know that the AKP will never like to see Turkey as a part of Europe,” Çalışkan said. “Because if you become a part of Europe, your policies need to be normalized, institutions democratized, rule of law needs to be supreme.” Çalışkan’s lecture titled, “Islamists in Turkey: From the Rule of Law to the Law of Some,” was hosted by AUC’s Middle East Studies Center and the Law Department.