Egypt Should Adopt the U.S. Constitution As Its Model

Our system is not perfect, but it provides a good example to follow.


right to revolt

Last week the Egyptians overthrew their government, again. Or, last week the Egyptian military overthrew the government, again. The U.S. government is resisting calls to identify it as a coup because that would jeopardize Washington's (largely military) aid to Egypt. That aid, to the tune of about $30 billion since 1978, helped fund the military that backed/was the government of Anwar Sadat and then Hosni Mubarak, before deposing Mubarak and then his successor, the democratically-elected Mohammed Morsi.

Egypt's first free elections came a couple of months after the 2011 Tahrir revolution, a March referendum on constitutional amendments that set the timetable for parliamentary and eventually presidential elections. The referendum's opponents worried that campaigns would be won by established political powers, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the former ruling party, who would then ensure the survival of a strong presidency under their control. Fourteen million people voted in favor of the referendum—77 percent of voters, albeit with a turnout of just 41 percent.

Egypt's high court dissolved the parliament's Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, which was working on a new constitution, in April 2012. But the different parties—and the military—came to an agreement as to how to empanel a new constituent assembly a few months later, ahead of Morsi's own election.

Morsi was voted in in two rounds of ballots, defeating a Mubarak-era prime minister by less than a million votes. Eventually, the constituent assembly produced a 236-article constitution that covered everything from government farmland to revenue sharing to "consumer rights." The article on "freedom of the press" guarantees it, with exceptions for "the requirements of national security" and "the private lives of citizens." (The government's explicit role in the economy wasn't new to the 2012 constitution. Similar sentiments were expressed in the 1971 constitution, which was in effect until Mubarak resigned.)

In theory, a constitution governs the relationship between the state and the people. Constitutions can be stocked with positive rights, in which the government promises to provide something, or negative rights, in which the government refrains from interfering. The Egyptian constitution somehow managed to turn even the rights of the press into a statement of obligation, requiring the media to "contribute to shaping and directing [public opinion] in accordance with the basic principles of the State and society."

When she was in Egypt last year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg told Egyptians that while the U.S. Constitution contained "grand general ideas," she wouldn't look to it in drafting a constitution today because of its exclusion of so many groups at the beginning. Instead, she called South Africa's constitution a "really great piece of work" to learn from. Yet while the South African government boasts that its constitution "enjoys high acclaim internationally," the African National Congress's emerging de facto one-party rule is an obstacle to the country becoming a stable democracy. When the ANC ousted Thabo Mbeki as the party's president, effectively vetoing his attempt to seek a third term, the ANC itself had to become a check on power; a more robust opposition is necessary.

Here, despite Justice Ginsberg's dismissal, the U.S. Constitution could offer a model for Egyptians. Its system of checks and balances has lasted more than 200 years. Yes, it failed to fully apply the principle of legal equality; it was a flawed document from a flawed time that was improved as its society evolved. Yet the fundamental mechanics of America's federal government have been the same through more than two centuries of relative political stability. (The great exception to that stability, of course, is the Civil War. But we came out of that conflict with more improvements to the Constitution: The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were the most important additions to the document outside the original Bill of Rights.)

Many of our constitutional rights are now under assault—the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, even the Third Amendment. Yet the rights enshrined in those articles are still there to put up a fight about. And despite the ruling party's constant protests about an "obstructionist" Congress, the legislature's ability to thwart an often unpopular presidential agenda is actually a constitutional feature in action.

And it might be what Egypt needs. Rather than seeking to draft a constitution that outlines what government ought to do for (and to) people, Egyptians need a constitution that limits the power of government. The Muslim Brotherhood was targeted by the Egyptian state throughout the rule of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak; it in turn was overthrown largely on the perception that it was imposing an Islamist agenda on the Egyptian State. Though modern Egyptian constitutions have declared Islam as the religion of the nation and the latest one called on it as a source of law, Egyptians may find a constitution that protects the state from the mosque and the mosque from the state works better. Such a separation could both protect the Muslim Brotherhood from government persecution and also prevent it from trampling on the rights of women and non-Muslims.

Drafting a constitution and establishing democratic institutions is no easy task. The coup itself came in the context of a popular revolt, a right implied in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and mentioned explicitly in a number of state constitutions. The anti-Morsi protests that preceded the president's overthrow were backed by petitions with more than 22 million signatures, far more than the number of votes received by either Morsi or the 2012 constitution.

Insofar as the government's core function is the protection of rights (from itself), the military arguably performed that role in deposing the president. What came after, however, illustrates the importance of also bringing the military within a constitutional regime of checks and balances. The armed forces' all-too-familiar crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which included the killing yesterday of 51 pro-Morsi supporters, is just the kind of display of excessive and unaccountable power that sparked Egypt's contemporary revolutionary fervor in the first place. And the crackdown follows a decades-long pattern of repression that put the Muslim Brothers in a strong position to curry public favor and take political advantage of a democratic moment. 

Mercifully, Egypt's experiment with democracy has not yet ended with a return to one-man, or one-party, rule. As Egyptians move to restart the process of drafting a constitution, they could look to America's and consider whether they might be able to secure a republic capable of protecting them from the excesses of either democratic or undemocratic institutions.

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  1. The US should adopt the US constitution as its model.

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    3. The US does. Well, the Cliff Notes version anyway.

      “The government can do anything necessary and proper to regulate commerce and promote the general welfare.”

      1. Ah yes, the “Good and Hard” clause.

  2. You want Egypt to have slavery? For the first time in their history?

    1. Can’t tell if serious.

      But you know, the whole Mamluk thing, the slaver soldiers that Islam used quite extensively until the 19th century.

    2. It would hardly be the first time in History. To this day actual legal salves from the Sudan may pass to Egypt as their first free destination. Wrong pun FoE.

      If only you had said the Arab Republic of Egypt….

    3. Slavery in the US was a leftover of colonial times, those “civilizee” Europeans. The US tried to get rid of it as quickly as possible. The Constitution wasn’t just a philosophical statement of principles of government, it was also a pretty pragmatic political compromise, which is very much what Egypt needs.

  3. We’re not using it…….

  4. They can have my constitution, at a terse 184,054 words. It’s also amended by direct referendum every other election, so you know it’s good.….._Louisiana

  5. Despite the US Constitution’s check & balances, the US effectively had one party rule for about twenty years until the Democratic-Republican Party imploded after Jackson-Adams tiff.

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    2. Oh, the horror! The country actually had a certain political direction for 20 years! Can’t have that!

  6. The beauty of the US constitution is that it is short. Short and sweet. I would make it even shorter by repealing the 16th amendment. But I would make the constitution longer by limiting the scope of the commerce clause and the 14th amendment — the modern interpretation of these parts of the constitution allow the government to enforce any perceived good it wants to (thus bringing about positive rights). Even Gideon and earlier decisions over-interpret the 6th amendment and should be thrown out.

    1. Great point!
      The other beauty of it is the 2A, which has kept our constitution alive & protected the rest of ’em all these years. 🙂

    2. I would make it even shorter by repealing the 16th amendment.

      Technically that doesn’t make the constitution any shorter since we keep our mistakes. The new amendment abolishing the old one would stand in addition to the old one.

      1. Good point. If Egypt copies ours, then can leave out the crap, like the repealed 18th and 16th. Then it will certainly be shorter!

        1. Absolutely. It’s a fool who won’t learn from his own mistakes, but a damn fool who won’t learn from somebody else’s.

  7. Other democracies have decidedly improved upon our elderly system with the parliamentary model. There are too many flaws in our system due directly to its constitutional structure to recommend it. I recommend we get an updated version for ourselves, in fact.

    1. Yeah. Like freedom of thought and the right to self defense. Stupid shit. You’re right. We should scrap the whole thing and adopt something like this:…..tion/1918/

    2. Your Top Man is working on that.

    3. They kill hoards of their elderly every year…
      20,000 people with dementia are put on the pathway annually & that’s only one issue that will get you put on a pathway out.
      Sorry but I value ALL human life much more than to subject them to the evils of a socialist gov’t that plays God.

    4. Protip: The parliamentary model predates the American system. It was rejected by the early Americans precisely because it works so well for twats like you.

    5. Other democracies have decidedly improved upon our elderly system with the parliamentary model.

      Just for the record, Egypt has a parliamentary model. That’s how the Islamic Brotherhood took power, as part of a coalition.

      Perhaps you’d like to emigrate?

      1. And the UK is right behind them lol

        1. Is that a sexx pun?

    6. When I see how parliamentary democracies function in practice, I don’t quite see how they have “decidedly improved” upon our system, unless you envy their constitutional crises.

    7. Other democracies have decidedly improved upon our elderly system….

      You should really consider moving.

    8. Didn’t Hitler come to power thanks to the parliamentary power?

      1. Yes he did. It was the large block of Christian parties (the same ones that are in power today in Germany) that cast the deciding votes to put him in power and give him extraordinary powers “for the good of Germany”.

    9. Tony, tsk, tsk, tsk.

      Parliamentary politics predates, you know, the Presidential system. There was, you see, a country called England (UK) and they spread it to the Commonwealth.

    10. The parliamentary model has been a disaster for countries that have it. Frequently, small parties end up having excessive influence because they represent the deciding votes between two large but equal parties. And it lacks sufficient separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches.

  8. I note one proposal to make this Congress a two-house body. Excellent ? the more impediments to legislation the better. But, instead of following tradition, I suggest one house of legislators, another whose single duty is to repeal laws. Let the legislators pass laws only with a two-thirds majority… while the repealers are able to cancel any law through a mere one-third minority. Preposterous? Think about it. If a bill is so poor that it cannot command two-thirds of your consents, is it not likely that it would make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as one-third is it not likely that you would be better off without it?

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
    — Robert A. Heinlein

    1. Yes, I’d like to counter Tony’s suggestion for a parliament with a suggestion with modifying the Senate so that they take the role of repealers.

      1. So you’re not suggesting retroactively that the current Senate will be a modification of your scheme?

      2. I would just amend a third house devoted to repealing laws. The courts are just too slow.

        1. Even simpler, as long as any law is on the books, create a repeal petition, and if it gets 1/2 of any chamber to sign it, the law is repealed instantly, gone, pining for the fjords. Can only be resurrected by starting from scratch.

      3. Of course Tony wants Parliamentary politics, little room for independent thought since Ministers have to toe the party line and in some cases – like Canada – the PM has more power concentrated in his office than the President does.

        It’s a Tony wet dream to have so much power in one person.

        Dictator! Love me, rule me! You dictator, I slave.

        1. You’re advocating for a presidential system and I’m the lover of centralized power?

          1. Yes? Certainly the conception of the American system (which failed, but was a nice try) was to set up the democratic legislative body and the inherently authoritarian executive body as separate and somewhat adversarial, rather than always having a single party or coalition capture both at the same time, in order for the democratic side of the system to better resist the authoritarian side.

            It failed (IMO) because American politics tends to only support two parties. If there were ten or so parties in Congress, many with only regional appeal, then the majority of Congresspersons would belong to some sort of opposition or rival party, and partisan loyalty would not trump the protection of branch prerogatives.

            1. I don’t think it has failed at all. It’s ugly and inelegant, but it always ends up kind of working. Bad as Bush and Obama have been, it frequently seems to produce lousy presidents, but sooner or later, Congress has always stepped in.

  9. The reluctance to admit Egypt has been couped is amusing. FDR was similarly reluctant to admit China and Japan were at war in the 1930s because that would have banned all arms exports to both parties.

  10. I was just thinking, the constitution is besides the point. The most important thing is to have a culture of freedom. In Western countries, many have this notion that government should get out of the way because it will deliver more effectively than a government driven society. Think of the invisible hand. Basic things about the role of government, how much is needed. In Western culture we have philosophers like John Locke, Adam Smith. Now there are other socialist ideas like Karl Marx, but the point is that Western culture has the free market ideas as well. Other countries can adopt John Locke writings as their own and build upon it. No ethnic jealousy here. But does Egypt have a culture of valuing freedom? That’s worth more than any constitution. Listening to the Fox News guys like Glenn Beck (when we worked at that venerable institution) indicates they have no experience with democratic and limited government institutions.

    1. The whole basis of Islam is submission. So no.

      If the place were run by the Copts, sure. While there are some forms of Christianity that can be slavish to authority, the whole point is largely that God gives you free will (that’s the point of the Garden of Eden story)

      But the Copts will be lucky if they manage to not get massacred.

      1. Exactly. So it doesn’t matter what kind of constitution they have, because the culture will decide all, ultimately.

        1. Yep, we had the progressive movement in the 1910’s to 1920’s. That culture caused expanded interpretations of the constitution to allow the government to fix society. The court packing scheme caused the courts to further expand the meaning of the constitution, especially the commerce clause. Looks like the expansion of the 6th amendment to require the government to pay for the the lawyer expenses of poor people started in the FDR court as well, but I don’t know the history of it. Then we had the Earl Warren court, and the corresponding culture of liberalism and multiculturalism.

          But then again, the West learned free market skills. For a long time the West was in the dark ages. So maybe there is still hope for Egypt?

          1. But the progressive movement is a minor fault as to the culture of freedom we’re discussing here. The country is still run on the basis that persecution is a bad thing, not a good one. The only reason something like the drug war is tolerated is because the mass of people, who are against persecution, have been convinced there’s a medical basis for it ? that it’s beneficent, not vindictive, in its overall thrust. Cultures like that of Egypt, by contrast, are just fine with persecution even in the recognition that it is vindictive, and have no desire for fair play. They’d be fine with open despoliation.

            Anyway, do analysts like Ed Krayewski really think this is a technical problem that could be solved with the right words in a document?

          2. I don’t see why there shouldn’t be hope. Read up on the horrors of the Thirty Years War, the French Revolution, Napoleon, WWII, etc. Resolving religious differences and creating democracies in Europe was far bloodier than anything that has happened in the Middle East so far.

        2. John Adams had a lot to say about how our system was only designed for free, reasonable people, savages cannot be ruled by consent any more than “A whale can be caught in a fish net.”

    2. Precisely. The Spirit of Frontier cannot be so easily transported in neither time or space. Egypt was the frontier thousands of years ago. Now it’s subject to being the most populous country of a culture of which it is not even the center. The official name is the Arab Republic of Egypt. (Like Germany once was the Holy Roman Empire.. of German Nations).

      Just as an exercise think how an American-inspired Constitution would work in the majority Arab population of Egypt in contrast to how it would work in the Christian and Greek minorities.

  11. About Egypt – shoot the entire region of North Africa and Mid-East which has a long history of despotic and monarchical rule under various empires and kleptocracies coupled with over active contemporary conspiratorial imaginations – and democracy…yeah, I’m gonna have to go ahead and ask you to finish the TPS reports.

  12. Egypt The United States Should Adopt the U.S. Constitution As Its Model

  13. They should strip the pro-slavery clauses from the Confederate Constitution and use that.

    1. The Confederate Constitution, not the slavery clauses.

  14. The article is interesting and leaves one with the taste of ‘How could anyone be opposed to this?” but unfortunately it also reeks of the Objectivist political paradigm that emerged with the post WWW2 Order.
    Egypt is not Japan.

    The law can be twisted. Respect for the law is what makes any Constitution worth its paper.
    In the US, as in Japan, there was enough respect for the one law of the land to make it work. In the US the respect emanated form each citizen’s or the militia’s guns. In Japan from those same American guns but only after absolute defeat.

    Egypt is not in that situation. The closest thing to gun-power held in reasonable hands is in fact the military the US had been doing deals with since the time of Sadat.

    An American inspired constitution in an identity-crisis-stricken Egypt is not a good idea.

    In Egypt, unlike in Japan, the religion of the land has its own law. There is competition. And the circumstances are different.

  15. Something tells me the whole religious freedom idea in the constitution isn’t going to go over very well over there.

  16. The Us should Adopt the Egyptian model of real democracy, ie; the will of the majority, in action.

    The USA has nothing to do with democracy, never has, you wouldnt recognise democracy if it jumped up and bit you on the rump!

    1. Democracy is not the same as tyranny of the majority.

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  20. “Egypt Should Adopt the U.S. Constitution As Its Model.” It’s a start, better than what they have now, but look at what US politicians have done to get round it over the years.

    Switzerland started with the US Constitution as its model getting on for two hundred years ago, modified it extensively, and now have one of the world’s safest and most prosperous countries. See the section Switzerland’s Central Government has Limited Power at

    Rather start with the better, more up-to-date version…

    And yes, the USA needs to adopt some of Switzerland’s improvements as well.

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