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.