WASHINGTON, January 22, 2014 — Egyptians voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new constitution in a referendum last weekend.
One protestor who opposed the constitution said, “This constitution is a betrayal of our martyrs who were killed here,” referring to Tahrir square in Cairo. “We can never accept it.” Other critics note the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters boycotted the referendum, and the almost unanimous support has raised questions about the legitimacy of the vote.
Article 53 of the new constitution says, “Citizens are equal before the law; they are equal in rights, freedoms and general duties. There should be no discrimination based on religion, faith, sex, ethnicity, race, color, language, disability, social class, political affiliation, geography or any other reason.”
Those who drew up this new constitution listened to the spirit of reason.
It is difficult to stand back and look at change objectively, particularly when we feel we have been cheated, but Egypt has to move forward. Article 53 guarantees freedom for all if the constitution is respected.
If the law favors some groups over others, inequality will eventually plunge Egypt back into turmoil. Those who gain the upper hand through legalized inequality will defend their advantages with guns. Without equality before the law, resources and opportunities are taken by those with access to power and the government, and they will use force to defend what they have.
With Article 53, Egypt tries to avoid using guns to distribute resources and opportunities. If the constitution is adopted, Egypt will have constitutionally embraced liberty, hence a free market, which will allocate resources and opportunities without preference for social class.
Equality before the law creates social dynamism; nothing is set in stone. If anyone can share opinions and discuss policy, everyone can. That is free speech. Equality opens the way to religious freedom, with no one faith privileged before the law. If it is taken seriously — always a serious if — Article 53 will create religious plurality in Egypt, which will be enormously healthy for the country.
It creates a culture of liberty.
Article 53 opens commerce to all, without giving any group special access to economic opportunity. There is no limit on who gets cell phones, or who can own a bank. No one gets an advantage due to religion, social class, ethnicity or sex. Anyone who sees a legal economic opportunity is free to explore it.
With the new constitution, Egypt may at least be moving away from a culture of institutionalized privilege and confrontation to a culture of freedom. If Egypt keeps Article 53 sacred, it will prosper beyond imagination; freedom is a far better blessing than oil.
Free people need no aid from other societies; free people are allowed to do, to produce, and don’t have to wait for other nations to help them. That is why aid is never tied to freedom. It is tied to allowing corporations in, because with freedom society prospers.
If Egypt strictly adheres to Article 53 — a big if — Egypt will be a free society. Article 53 says we trust ourselves and each other; we should all be free.
Article 53 will ensure Arab spring matures to a full Arab renewal and Egypt would have led the way.