x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt's need to agree on fundamentals

The framers of Egypt's constitution have to consider matters that have not been resolved for more than a century, an Arabic-language commentator notes. Other topics: Eid in Syria and Haj capacity.

"Is it true that the current battle over the new constitution in Egypt consists in differences over a few articles … and a couple of phrasings and details here and there?" asked Hala Mostafa, a contributor to the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram, in a column yesterday.

Modern definitions refer to "the spirit of the constitution", in the sense that this document sums up the political and rational framework that a nation agrees to adopt as a platform to ensure internal stability and achieve progress, the writer said.

A constitution has to do with fundamentals such as the state's identity and its overarching political and economic orientation. And Egypt, like other Arab Spring nations, appears to have not yet woken up to this approach.

A constitution "is not just a bunch of inanimate clauses, a series of pedantic details or a hodgepodge of incongruous articles put together", the writer said.

No one can deny "the state of confusion as well as the apparent and backstage conflicts that are boiling under the surface" as the process of drafting a new Egyptian constitution is getting under way, she added.

It shows that the revolution was not enough, since it did not produce an alternative leadership that could consummate the break with the old regime and steer the country safely to freedom, the writer argued.

"The issue, then, lies not in the constitution per se," she said, for there is a bigger conflict about fundamentals that runs deeper.

When there is wide disagreement about the nation's political, economic and cultural orientations as well as the system of government and national identity, it means that there is nothing to build on in the first place.

If one compares the Arab Spring uprisings to other revolutions that instated democracy in the West or Eastern Europe, one will notice a clear difference. In the latter, despotism was the sole candidate for radical change, while all other critical aspects of the nation's heritage - the state's identity and attitude to progress and modernity - remained practically stable.

"In the Arab experience, however, the [postrevolutionary] debate is about everything from the relationship between religion and politics and the part of heritage in building modern society to issues of education, women's and minorities' rights, civic freedoms, art and more," she wrote.

These are debates that have not been settled in Egypt for over a century and a half, she added.

"Answers to elemental questions remained on the fence, swaying between tradition and modernity, with one side getting the upper hand at various historical intervals."

This is why the process of drafting a new constitution in Egypt is pulling the nation back to square one instead of propelling it forward, the author concluded.

Expanding Mecca's capacity a tough issue

About three million Muslim pilgrims went on Haj this season, and, like every year, many more Muslims were disappointed because they were unable to make it, wrote columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed in yesterday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

"The vast majority of the one billion Muslims around the world are not able to perform Haj, not just because most of them are poor, but primarily because the capacity of the holy places is limited," the author said.

This is a major challenge for Saudi Arabia, being the front line caretaker of Haj.

Despite great expansion works to make it easier for three million people to stay, move and perform rites in the holy places, Saudi officials know how hard it is to allow that number to grow.

"Everything was tried … and the conclusion is that no more than three million pilgrims can perform Haj," the columnist said. "And even if the capacity is dramatically stretched out, the maximum would be four million."

Given these spatial constraints, Umrah, which is not compulsory in Islam but is considered a minor form of Haj, might be the solution.

Umrah pilgrims can travel to the holy places throughout the year, unlike Haj pilgrims who are tied to the month of Dhu Al Hijja, the writer noted.

In Syria, Eid is a time of misery and pain

Across the world, Eid is an opportunity for Muslims to renew and improve bonds between neighbours, families and friends. Eid is also a great joy for children, especially those of the poor, as their parents usually buy them new clothes.

But Eid also reminds us of people's miseries, especially those in Syria, wrote Syrian writer Hussain Al Oweidat in an opinion article for Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

More than two-and-a-half million have been displaced after they lost everything they had. Thirty-five people thousand were killed, as many have disappeared and double that number have been detained. For those, no end appears in the horizon.

We can imagine the suffering of the family head in Syria who is not able to find food for his family, school for his children or a roof under which to live.

Despite that, he has to celebrate Eid with his family. He has to ignore the sounds of shelling in his neighbourhood.

Children, who are not aware of what is going around them, cannot wear new shoes and new clothes, and enjoy the balloons, cheap toys and sweets.

Syrians appear to have deliberately ignored Eid.

People outside Syria can only hope success for Syrians in overcoming this calamity.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi