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Adel Omar Sherif, the deputy chief justice of Egypt’s highest court, expressed concern yesterday at a Harvard Law School panel about the presence of the Egyptian army in the country’s constitutional proceedings, which he fears might prevent the voice of the Egyptian people from determining the country’s post-revolutionary future.
He said that the army has wavered in determining how to move the country forward, first proposing to scrap the original constitution and later backtracking on those plans. Sherif criticized the army’s actions in recent weeks, said that there has been a lack of transparency, and questioned the army’s role in the writing of a new constitution.
“The situation has left shadows of uncertainty with regards to the future role of the army in politics,” Sherif said.
Sherif was careful not to make any bold predictions about Egypt’s future, frequently mentioning the confusing and precarious nature of the current situation.
But he also expressed a general note of optimism, saying that Egyptians are “ready to move forward into a proud future.”
The other speakers at the event also touched on the unpredictability of the current political climate.
“The reason that this is such a difficult area is because we’re in a moment where we don’t know where to start,” Law School Professor Vicki C. Jackson said. “The basic law itself is up for grabs.”
While the revolution in Egypt has made headlines around the world and has sparked other protest movements in the region, history professor E. Roger Owen cautioned that in popular uprisings the will of the people can often be hijacked.
“Sovereignty comes from the people, but it is very possible to manipulate the notion of ‘the people,’” Owen said. Owen stressed the importance of not letting the amendment process fall into the “wrong kind of hands.”
One of the members in attendance echoed the skepticism expressed by some of the panelists.
“You can’t expect the military to do a complete 180 and be entirely pro-revolutionary,” said Ramy M. Ibrahim, a second year at the Law School.
But Visiting Professor of Islamic Legal Studies Chibli Mallat expressed his joy about the largely nonviolent revolution that is unfolding in parts of the Middle East and said that Egypt is in a “constitutional moment” in which the social contract is being redrawn.
The term “constitutional moment,” coined by Yale Law School Professor Bruce A. Ackerman, was mentioned throughout the discussion to compare this period to the United States Constitutional Convention and other historic moments during which social contracts were redrawn.
Sherif, who is a member of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, detailed the history leading up to the January 25 Revolution, saying that Egypt was governed with “severe violations against their own people.”
“For so many years, the average person in Egypt never had any political ambitions in mind,” Sherif said. “The will of the people has not made a large impact most of the time. But this is a turning point.”
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