Articles and Commentary

Tunisia’s new constitution: Progress and challenges

Zaid Al-Ali and Donia Ben Romdhane, 16 February 2014, Opendemocracy

Most Tunisians agree that their new constitution is an advance, despite the imperfections. The people’s new democratic spirit is what will make Tunisia a success, and it will hopefully serve as an inspiration for the entire Arab region in times to come.


Egypt’s missed constitutional moment

Zaid Al-Ali, 17 December 2013, Foreign Policy

Egypt’s new draft constitution includes a number of important improvements. It contains clear language on the issue of discrimination and violence against women; it grants significant rights and affords protection to children and the disabled; the list of socio-economic rights has been lengthened and is more detailed than it has ever been. Efforts were made to close some of the loopholes in the system of government that had been created in the 2012 constitution, and the useless Shura Council was eliminated, therefore simplifying the legislative process. Finally, more secular-minded Egyptians will be comforted that many of the references to religion that had been included in 2012 were eliminated. Most importantly, the infamous article 219 from the 2012 constitution was removed, allowing a large number of nervous Egyptians to breathe a collective sigh of relief.


The Constitutional Court’s mark on Egypt’s elections

Zaid Al-Ali, 6 June 2013, Foreign Policy

On May 25, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) rejected the draft electoral law that the Shura Council had referred to it a month and a half earlier. The SCC found that the draft law did not conform to the 2012 constitution on several grounds, some relatively minor and others far more consequential. This was the third time that the courts have delayed the electoral process. The SCC also issued a number of important rulings on June 2: the SCC ruled that the Shura Council was elected on the basis of an unconstitutional electoral law, severely damaging its legitimacy; secondly, it ruled that the constituent assembly that was established in June 2012 was also unconstitutional, but also found that the 2012 constitution should remain in effect, given that it was approved in a popular referendum.


Egypt’s constitutional morass

Zaid Al-Ali, 23 August 2013, Foreign Policy

Egypt’s Interim President Adli Mansour issued a new constitutional declaration on July 8 following President Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office. This declaration laid out a three-step process for amending Egypt’s constitution. First, a 10-member technical committee would be given one month to propose changes to the 2012 constitution. Following that, a 50-member constituent assembly (which will have only six political party representatives and which shall consist mostly of representatives from state institutions) will have two months to debate the proposed changes. Finally, a referendum will be organized to ratify the new constitution, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections.


Another constitutional declaration in Egypt: Back to square one?

Zaid Al-Ali, 9 July 2013, Foreign Policy

On July 8, Adly Mansour, Egypt’s new interim president who until recently was a member of the country’s Supreme Constitutional Court, issued yet another “constitutional declaration.” This comes after a year of failed leadership by former President Mohamed Morsi, the historic June 30 demonstrations, the intervention by the military, the ultimate dethroning of the president and the ensuing violence, much of which has left Egypt deeply polarized. The question today is whether this new declaration will contribute to lessening tension in the country, or whether it will become a new point of contention much like all the preceding chapters in Egypt’s troubled transition to democracy.


Egypt’s constitution swings into action

Zaid Al-Ali and Nathan Brown, 27 March 2013, Foreign Policy

Egypt’s experience with constitutions over the past half-century may reverse Marx’s dictum that everything in history occurs twice, first as tragedy and then as farce. Egypt’s 1971 constitution — memorably described by NGO activist Nasser Amin as “a joke that turned serious” was replaced by a 2012 document written in a process that began with high hopes and ended with bitter recriminations, high-handed maneuvers by the drafters, and an opposition boycott of the final stages of the drafting.


Iraq: Ten years of incompetence and hubris

Zaid Al-Ali, 22 March 2013, OpenDemocracy

Ten years after the 2003 war, the Iraqi government credits itself with a number of achievements. All foreign soldiers have left the country, the 2005 constitution was approved by 80% of the population, several rounds of elections have taken place in the absence of credible accusations of massive fraud, and the annual state budget has reached unheard of proportions.  And yet, the country has millions of poor who live in slums without access to any government services to speak of, and millions of others have left the country never to return. The government is once again rearming. Women’s rights have regressed. Political tensions, fueled by corruption, violence and sectarianism, appear to be worsening.


The new Egyptian constitution: an initial assessment of its merits and flaws

Zaid Al-Ali, 26 December 2012, OpenDemocracy

Egypt cannot be described as a religious state, given that political power remains firmly in the hands of civilians, but religion will now play a real role in inspiring how the state is to function. And military trials of civilians have been elevated to a constitutional principle.


Iraqi regionalism and its discontents

Zaid Al-Ali, 3 December 2012, OpenDemocracy

The incompetence of Iraq’s central governance is fuelling demands for the formation by local provinces of self-governing regions. But such a course is most unlikely to solve the core problems Iraqis are facing, says Zaid Al-Ali.


The new Syrian constitution: An Assessment

Zaid Al-Ali, 27 February 2012, ConstitutionNet

In response to months of persistent demonstrations, uprisings and violence, the Syrian state has engaged in a number of reforms. In February 2012, a committee of experts that was appointed specifically for the purpose of drawing up a new constitution for the country submitted its final draft to the president. The draft was published shortly thereafter and is set to be put to a referendum within weeks. Sources that are close to Syria’s ruling party have hailed the draft as a major advance towards achieving genuine democracy and satisfying protesters’ demands. Others have retorted that the draft amounts to little more than window dressing and will make little or no difference to the manner in which Syria and Syrians are governed. This short commentary offers some initial thoughts on the draft and where it is likely to lead the country.


Libya’s draft constitution: An analysis

Zaid Al-Ali, 12 September 2011, ConstitutionNet (English and Arabic)

Libya’s draft interim constitution, which is designed to guide the country through the coming period until a permanent constitution is finalized and enters into force, is a fairly standard text for the Arab region. It is at times progressive (it provides for a number of social rights, including social security; article 8), and intrusive at others (it requires the state to encourage marriage; article 5). It calls for the institution of a multi-party democracy (article 4), but refers a number of vital issues to future legislation, leaving open the possibility that non-democratic practices may develop (it provides that the conditions under which a warrant for phone tapping can be obtained, and that rules on the organization of political parties will be determined by law; articles 13 and 15 respectively).


Is six months enough to draft a new Egyptian Constitution?

Zaid Al-Ali, 27 June 2011, Al-Hayat (Arabic)

لكل بلد في الشرق الأوسط نصيبه من التحديات والمزايا، ولا شك في أن صياغة الدستور المصري ستشكل تجربة مختلفة تماماً عمّا حدث في العراق عام 2005 أقلّه إذ لا يتحتم على مصر أن تعاني من عواقب أي احتلال عسكري أجنبي. غير أن أوجه الشبه بين البلدين غير تلك البديهية المتصلة بالروابط اللغوية والثقافية والدينية والتاريخية تكفي للسماح لهما بالاستفادة من خبرات بعضهما بعضاً في ما يتعلق ببعض القضايا المحددة. يتشارك كل من مصر والعراق في احتياجات أساسية يمكن تلبية بعضها، وإن جزئياً، من خلال صياغة دستور ناجحة. غير أن التجربة العراقية فشلت فشلاً ذريعاً بهذا المعنى ولا بدّ لمصر من تقويم تلك التجربة واستخلاص الدروس منها، بغية تفادي تكرار الأخطاء المميتة نفسها.


What Egypt should learn from Iraq

Zaid Al-Ali, 21 April 2011, OpenDemocracy

After the extraordinary initial success of Egypt’s popular revolution in removing Hosni Mubarak from power, the supreme council for the armed forces published an interim constitution on 30 March 2011 that is to guide the country through the coming period. Although the text opens up exciting new possibilities and opportunities for change, it is also deeply problematic, particularly insofar as the mechanism for drafting the permanent constitution is concerned.  In that regard, Egypt has much to learn from Iraq, which is the only country in the Arab region to have engaged in a constitutional drafting process in recent memory.


Iraq hanging by a thread

Zaid Al-Ali, 18 August 2010, OpenDemocracy

Iraqis now have greater physical security, though violence continues and politics are stalemated. But the years of conflict have corroded trust, entrenched sectarian identities, undermined livelihoods, and ravaged the environment. Zaid Al-Ali, travelling through Iraq, finds a society under intense stress whose human and national bonds are frayed – but far from broken.


Maliki, Allawi and the Iraqi People

Zaid Al-Ali, 2 April 2010, OpenDemocracy

The election results are in, and no one can say that they weren’t surprised. Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya Alliance, a secular grouping that in the December 2005 parliamentary elections had been relegated to fourth place, has come out on top this time with 91 MPs. Nouri Al-Maliki, the incumbent prime minister and leader of the State of Law Coalition, which had been hoping to dominate the next government by winning as many as 120 seats in the current elections, has had to settle for 89. Both groups are now furiously courting some of the elections’ other winners, in particular the Sadrist movement (39 seats) and the Kurdish Alliance (43 seats) with a view to securing the 163 seats that any alliance would need in order to win a vote of confidence in parliament. Although the effort is only a few days old, it has already given rise to accusations (by the ruling party no less) of electoral fraud, to an effort to disqualify winning candidates because of alleged links to the banned Baath Party, and to the intense involvement of foreign nations (most particularly Iran) in an effort to influence the outcome.


March 2010: Another Defeat for the Iraqi People

Zaid Al-Ali, 4 March 2010, Niqash

Commentators and observers have described the elections that are due to take place on 7 March 2010 as a watershed moment. They are supposed to be the first to be organised at the national level with genuine competition between parties, and they will supposedly also mark a clear departure from the era of clerical rule that was ushered in under the auspices of the US occupation. Whatever the merits of that analysis, a more important question remains: will the upcoming elections bring about any real change in the lives of ordinary Iraqis? Judging from the manner in which the competing parties are campaigning, the manner in which the issues that matter to Iraqis are being discussed and the actual candidates themselves, the answer is that Iraqis will be soundly defeated in their efforts to bring about genuine change.


Face of Corruption, Mask of Politics

Zaid Al-Ali, 2 July 2009, OpenDemocracy

The United States’s military evacuation of Iraq‘s cities on 30 June 2009, the beginning of its overall withdrawal from the country, also offers an opportunity to heal the many wounds that have been inflicted on Iraq’s people. But even for those of us who have argued that a failure to withdraw would be tantamount to continuing on the road to hell, a number of fundamental issues weigh heavily on our minds now that the occupation may be ending.


What are the provisions that need to be amended in the Iraqi Constitution?

Zaid Al-Ali and Asanga Welikala, 12 December 2009, Al-Hayat (Arabic)

خلال وضع الدستور العراقي عام 2005، فشلت الأطراف السياسية الحاكمة في إنتاج عقد اجتماعي جديد للبلاد، الأمر الذي يساهم اليوم في تصاعد وتيرة العنف. وعلى رغم أنّ نص الدستور صُدّق عليه بموجب استفتاء شعبي، فمن الواضح تماماً أنّه لا يتمتّع بدعم شريحة كبيرة من المجتمع العراقي، فالطائفة السنية صوّتت بغالبيتها ضدّ هذا الدستور، كما أنّ مقتدى الصدر، وهو أبرز الزعماء الشيعة في العراق، رفضه إذ اعتبره”يؤدّي إلى الطائفية”. وحتّى في أوساط الذين صوّتوا لإقرار الدستور، يصعب البتّ في ما إذا كانت نتائج الاستفتاء تمثّل خياراً واعياً لهم مبنياً على فهم الحيثيّات


Saving Iraq: A Critique of Peter Galbraith

Zaid Al-Ali, 25 October 2006, OpenDemocracy

A dangerous trend is emerging amongst United States policymakers and political commentators. Faced in Iraq with an ever-strengthening insurgency and an increasingly bloody civil war, more of them are warming to a course of action that would bring about the worst possible outcome for Iraqi civilians. The suggestion is that the country be split into three separate entities, each of which would be home to a distinct ethnic or religious group.


Iraq’s War of Elimination

20 August 2006, OpenDemocracy

The armed attack on a Shi’a religious procession in Baghdad on 20 August 2006 that killed around seventeen pilgrims (as well as four gunmen) and caused injury to at least 253 is only the latest incident in an escalating cycle of sectarian violence in the city. The numbers being killed on both sides of the Shi’aSunni divide – the total in July was 3,438, an average of more than 100 each day – are greater than at any time since the United States-led invasion of 2003. What are the reasons for this intensifying trend, and how does it relate to current US plans for Iraq’s political future?


The IMF and the Future of Iraq

Zaid Al-Ali, 7 December 2004, Middle East Report Online

On November 21, 2004, the 19 industrialized nations that make up the so-called Paris Club issued a decision that, in effect, traces the outline of Iraq’s economic future. The decision concerns a portion of Iraq’s $120 billion sovereign debt—a staggering amount that all concerned parties recognize is unsustainable. In their proposal to write off some of the debt, the Paris Club members took advantage of the opportunity to impose conditions that could bind the successor government in Baghdad to policies of free-market fundamentalism.


Forgetting Iraq

Zaid Al-Ali, 7 October 2004, Al-Ahram Weekly

It was just as people around the world started believing that the situation was improving, and just as they had started shifting their attention to other matters that I travelled to Iraq — my parents’ native country — for only the second time in my life. Despite everything that I had heard from Iraqi and American governmental officials about the situation there, despite all that I read about the changes that the country has gone through since last year, I was not prepared for what I saw. Information provided by government should always be treated with caution, particularly when the information it provides relates to its own performance and to the consequences of its actions. But in the case of Iraq, the situation has now become totally out of hand: life in Baghdad bears no relationship to the declarations that government officials have been making, nor with the images that we see on our television screens, and that is something that I was only able to truly appreciate after visiting the country myself.