Commentary: Egypt's constitution process parallels Costa Mesa charter process

"A constitution can't be formed according to only one political spectrum, but it should be made for all Costa Mesans and for generations to come."

Stirring words that could have come from Costa Mesa. The man actually said "Egyptians," not "Costa Mesans." The speaker's name is Abdel Aziz Nahhas, a member of an Egyptian political party opposing the constitution-writing assembly. The assembly has been mostly packed by members of the Muslim Brotherhood political party.

Christians, secularists, liberals, and other groups have boycotted this assembly, fearing the Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafis would put Islamic Sharia law into the new Egyptian constitution.

Unfortunately, Egypt and Costa Mesa are traveling parallel political paths in their constitutional crises.

Councilman Jim Righeimer presented his personally written version of a city charter (aka "the city's constitution") to the public last December. Within a few days, the coalition of citizens of many political persuasions — Republicans, Democrats, Independents and Libertarians — that had formed months earlier met and decided it couldn't support Mr. Righeimer's charter. A major sticking point for the coalition turns out to be the same as the opposition in Egypt.

In Nahhas's words, "Egypt has witnessed a real crisis after one political sect wanted to use its parliamentary majority to solely and exclusively form the constitution."

"This can't be right," he concluded. "A constitution is much bigger than this."

Back home in Costa Mesa, the citizen coalition contends that a charter shouldn't be written by just one guy with an obvious personal agenda and rammed down our throats; it should be written by the preferred method of a 15-member commission of elected citizens, as California law implies by placing it first in the section listing the permissible ways a charter may be drafted.

The commission should have the time — the usual time taken for this is one to two years — to methodically work out, through interaction with the public, just what a new constitution (charter) for Costa Mesa should contain.

Echoing Nahhas's words, the Costa Mesa coalition says Costa Mesa is witnessing a real crisis after one political ideology has wanted to use its council majority to solely and exclusively form the charter in a hurry and with little public input.

The coalition's resolute bottom line is: This can't be right; a charter is much bigger than this.

TOM EGAN is a Costa Mesa resident.

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