The city and Egypt’s constitution 2013

Last year as a new constitution (for Egypt) was drafted issues pertaining to the right to housing, right to the city, protection and management of patrimony, right to information (including municipal budgets, etc) and the right to elect municipal officials including governors were almost entirely excluded from the final draft or were given vague unbinding statements or were relegated to law (rather than constitution).

While other issues such as identity and the role of religion in governance and society were given prime attention in media coverage, as a form of distraction rather than debate, issues pertaining to everyday life such as those mentioned above received little or no attention. Only a few commentaries were posted online such as Cairobserver’s comments and a few articles such as Aaron Jakes’ article “The Severed Branches of Local Government.” Other commentary came from Mosireen who posted the video below. The video features Kareem Ibrahim, one of the founders of Tadamun, an initiative focused on urban solidarity which was featured on this blog last spring. Tadamun has launched a campaign to raise awareness of how constitutions can protect certain rights affecting urban life stating that such rights can not be protected or activated without proper public knowledge and discussion.

“It is not enough to draft a good Constitution,” Tadamun campaigners said in a recent policy alert, “What is more essential is that citizens recognize their rights, devise ways to hold the state accountable to protecting and promoting those rights, and actively participate in consolidating them and realizing them on the ground.”

The campaign’s policy alert regarding the constitution expands on ideas expressed by Ibrahim in the video above. First, the issued alert provides a glimpse into recent constitutions such as Brazil’s, Colombia’s and South Africa’s which could provide some useful guidelines regarding issues related to urban rights. According to Tadamun, these constitutions:

  • Intentionally engaged and solicited large numbers of citizens in drafting their constitutions – disregarding their ethnic, religious or political backgrounds
  • Included clear and coherent principles throughout the constitution to enshrine citizens’ political rights and freedoms as well as economic, social and cultural rights, while stressing the state’s responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill these rights
  • Developed new concepts that became important guiding principles to realize these rights

Tadamun then highlights the lack of attention given to Egypt’s wealth of heritage and urban practices stemming from local contexts which have been ignored rather than revived in the formation of new concepts for urban life to be protected by the constitution. Tadamun also highlights problems such as the inadequate definitions of terms and concepts relating to urban life in the current constitutional language. Concepts such as “adequate housing,” present in the current text and likely to be recycled in the new constitution, are not given definite meaning. Read the full policy alert available in both English and Arabic.

Another important and relevant policy alert by Tadamun asks “Why Did the Revolution Stop at the Municipal Level?”.

It states:

“This policy alert explores the system of local administration in our cities and discusses the challenges and problems it faces in dealing with the post-Revolution political reality as citizens continue to demand their right to the city—whether through protests in Tahrir Square, when paying local taxes and fees, demanding better transportation, seeking permits to renovate an apartment, or trying to create public space in informal areas.”

“Before the revolution, Local People’s Councils (LPCs), the representative body of local government, had very little autonomy, no legislative power, few economic resources, and a limited mandate (see “Who Pays for Local Administration” for more information on the financial dimension of local government). Since the Revolution, many residents across the country are exploring ways to improve their communities and work with public and private actors to strengthen them. Our cities benefit from the contributions, input, and local knowledge of their residents and their ideas should be publicly encouraged and lauded, yet instead, they are often ignored.”

Read the full alert, here.

For more on this and other important urban policy related issues, regularly check Tadamun’s website and facebook page.

 

Cairobserver was founded in April 2011 and is edited by Mohamed Elshahed.  Mohamed Elshahed is a Cairo-based scholar and researcher currently completing his doctoral dissertation in the Middle East Studies Department at New York University. His dissertation, Revolutionary Modernism? Architecture and the Politics of Transition in Egypt, 1936-1967, focuses on architecture and urban planning in Egypt during the period of political transition around the 1952 coup d’etat. Mohamed has a Bachelor of Architecture from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Master in Architecture Studies from MIT.

 

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