Crowdsourcing the Constitution?

Egypt is alive with vibrant political discourse, action, organizing and hope. While much attention has recently been focused on the “constitution first” campaign run by activists (with a Tahrir rally promised on July 8th by opponents of holding elections before writing a new constitution), debate on the constitution itself proceeds apace (although today’s news suggest the elections may indeed be postponed until December). Two digitally-based initiatives for crowdsourcing the constitution have taken shape. The first, under the auspices of the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center, is called “Let’s Write Our Constitution,” and is hosted online by a Google group here. One of the participants there is my friend the journalist Mohamed El-Gohary, now with the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, which played a substantial role in reporting on regime abuses between 2006 and the revolution. The other is spearheaded by the Cloud to Street project, working with the Baradei presidential campaign. It uses an innovative software platform that allows participants to debate various possible constitutional amendments, including a potential bill of rights advanced by the Baradei campaign itself. Both of these projects, whatever their outcome, support Benkler’s argument that the new information environment supports enhanced individual participation in the public sphere via many-to-many conversations.

It should be noted that popular (i.e. non-elite digirati) opinion of these struggles appears to be dimming. Fahmy Howeidi, one of Egypt’s longstanding opinion columnists and social arbiters, skewers the debate today (Ar.) in Shorouq and argues, “First, the poor.” The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) may indeed delay elections, but the biggest challenge facing all Egyptians, as Howeidi rightly notes, is not necessarily the shape of the constitution, but rather the plight of destitute Egyptians facing ever-direr economic circumstances.

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