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Egypt’s Draft Constitution in Focus – The Role of the Army [Video]

[The first round of the referendum in Cairo on December 15th. Image originally posted to Flickr by Zeinab Mohamed.] [The first round of the referendum in Cairo on December 15th. Image originally posted to Flickr by Zeinab Mohamed.]

[The following video is part of a series of clips produced by the Mosireen collective to promote greater awareness around the draft constitution currently under consideration in national referendum in Egypt. The full series can be accessed by clicking here.]

Political researcher Ibrahim El Houdaiby and Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, explain how the draft constitution puts the Army and its extensive industrial activities—estimated to be between twenty-five and forty percent of the Egyptian economy—beyond the scrutiny of elected bodies. If the draft constitution passes, parliament would not have the right to discuss or even be briefed on the details of the military’s budget. El Houdaiby and Bahgat discuss the economic consequences of ring-fencing the military economy from the national budget and its alarming relationship with the question of forced labor and conscription in the constitution. They conclude that the draft constitution grants greater powers to the Army and military institutions than any other Egyptian constitution in history, entrenching the Army deep within the legal system, and striking at the heart of the revolution and widespread calls for a civil state.

In the draft constitution, the National Defense Council is the only body that has the right to know the details of the military budget and to issue military edicts. In a departure from previous constitutions, the majority of the National Defense Council will be made up of people drawn from the military and a minority from civilians, of whom only three will be elected. Consequently, the National Defense Council will be above the reach of parliament and other elected bodies, who will have no right to discuss or even be briefed on the details of the military budget.

El Houdaiby and Bahgat argue that this is designed to shield the military economy and the high-ranking officers who benefit from it from scrutiny, further entrenching an economic system that pushes the majority of Egyptians below the poverty line. They point to the privileging of mandatory conscription in the draft constitution and the deletion of a clause preventing forced labor. They argue that the draft constitution protects a military economy, which thrives on the forced labor of thousands of conscripts in army industries (e.g. food factories) that have very little to do with national defense or military activities.    

In an interesting insight into the writing of the constitution, El Houdaiby describes the combative approach taken by representatives of the Armed Forces in the Constituent Assembly. When it was suggested that an extra elected civilian be included in the National Defense Council, the military representative’s response was quite simply, “for every one of your people, we will put another one of ours”.

El Houdaiby and Bahgat conclude that more than any other constitution in Egyptian history, the current draft constitution puts the Armed Forces and their financial activities in a position of privilege and authority above elected bodies and beyond the will of the people.

For more details please watch the video below (Click “CC” for English subtitles) 





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