I proudly announce that I have translated Egypt’s 2012 constitution. To find the document, visit this page.
Here’s how it came about:
In mid-December 2012, after toppling President Hosni Mubarak, battling the generals that followed him into power, struggling with inflation and unemployment, and going through an emotionally charged presidential election, Egyptians had to decide on a new constitution.
It was a tumultuous process. Together, the Muslim Brotherhood and the more rigid community of salafists held the majority of seats in the constitutional assembly. Assembly members fought over the role of the military and its ability to try civilians and freedom of speech. Critics demanded that the High Constitutional Court annul the constitutional assembly in its entirety.
Article 2, which designated the Islamic sharia as the primary source for legislation, and article 219, which defined the sharia, created especially great controversy. Women’s rights organizations protested against the article. So did Christian groups who worried that the new constitution would leave them marginalized.
Among the politically active population, views of the evolving constitution were closely aligned with their view of President Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood. Those suspicious of Brotherhood rule were critical of the constitution. Those who supported President Morsi demonstrated in its favor.
Given the electric atmosphere that prevailed on Tahrir Square, at the Journalism Syndicate, and other locations where demonstrators gathered, the referendum was surprisingly lackluster. Tired of postrevolutionary politics, most Egyptians stayed home. Only 33% of adult citizens turned out and supported the constitution with 64% of the vote.
That left me curious. Did this document warrant the boredom it generated among Egypt’s electorate? Or rather the volatile mixture of fear and exuberance it elicited among the politically active?
After reading an English translation of the constitution that Egypt Independent published in stages beginning November 30, 2012, the day the constitutional assembly adopted the final draft, I was startled by critical comments that people who had read both the original and English versions made in the feedback section of the page. In hindsight I believe that this translation – an excellent one considering that it was produced on the fly – was actually of an earlier constitutional draft.
So I decided to do my own translation. Its source is a document I downloaded from AlJazeera Mubasher – or AlJazeera Live. AlJazeera Mubasher posted it on November 30, 2012, affirming that it was indeed the final draft.
So does the constitution deserve the bad reputation it has had among rights activists? I suggest you judge for yourself!
A Note on the Gendered Aspect of the Translation:
Like German or French but unlike English, Arabic is a gendered language. Each noun comes with a gender that is attached to it. For example, “doctor” in Egyptian Arabic would be “doctoor,” which is male. To describe a specifically female doctor, one attaches an “a” to the word: “doctoora.”
Arabic, like many other gendered languages, uses the male form of nouns in statements that apply to both sexes. For example, whereas an English announcement might read, “The museum visitor is asked to check his or her camera at the desk,” in Arabic that same statement would be expressed as “The museum visitor is asked to check his camera at the desk.” Female visitors are simply subsumed under this essentially male expression.
In translating the constitution, I have made no effort to eliminate the gendered aspect of the language. The reason is that Egyptian society is patriarchal, granting men legal, economic, and cultural advantages over women. A gendered translation reflects this patriarchal value system more honestly than any attempt to gender-neutralize nouns and adjectives.
This means, of course, that even when the translation reads “he submits the petition”, the woman is considered subsumed (as in “he or she submits the petition”), unless the statement makes specific exemptions for females.
I am grateful to Hans Wehr for producing my trusted dictionary, and to Google for inventing Google Translate. I also wish to thank Mohammed AlDawood for checking my translation for accuracy and my wonderful colleague Hassan Ajami, who helped me when I ran into particularly challenging expressions.
If you find any remaining mistakes, please feel free to contact me.