To Amend or Not to Amend? [Archives:2000/35/Focus]

August 28 2000

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
What is the matter with Abdullah, now? asked Fatima.
Her mother Samira answered: Fatima, your brother is going to have one of his legal fits again. Just when he thought he had memorized the Constitution of the Republic of Yemen, the Government announced that new amendments are on the way. Poor Abdullah, it seems he had greater trouble memorizing the Constitution than memorizing the poems of Al-Mutanabbi*.
Abdullah stopped slapping his face and some of the bewilderment was removed from his face – not all just some, as he said: I would have had better luck majoring in nuclear physics than going into law. At least, I could have landed a job on the Barents Sea and the Kurs submarine would not have sunk. However, here, I am sinking deeper than the depth of the Arctic Sea. You can study the Constitution of Yemen all your life, but you will never get a grasp of it, because every few years, they will have it amended again.
Fatima wanted to raise her brothers spirits: Look, Abdullah, a great nation is measured by the adaptability of its Constitution to the times.
Abdullah quickly picked up the tune: Fatima, you are mistaken there, it is really the other way around; we adapt the times to our Constitution.
Nasr, Abdullahs father walked in from work and joined the conversation: What is all this legal jargon being thrown around here, kids?
Samira, happy to see her husband early for lunch so she can go out with her friends to a ladys gathering, said: Well, good to see you home early today, Nasr, I was going to call you to eat out today or bring your own lunch from outside. Fatima here is busy trying to keep her brother from having a nervous breakdown. Just as he managed to have memorized the last revised Constitution of the country, the Government announced that twenty or so amendments are going to be put in.
The father was not surprised by the news: Son, we have a lot of legal geniuses in the country who have to show their acumen by insisting that what they did before they can do better now! You see our legal experience is proceeding so rapidly that our legal geniuses insist that their old work is not compatible with the times and circumstances.
Dad, this is what is worrying me, that it is the same legal geniuses, who are carrying on with our laws like they were a game of scrabble, Pt this amendment here, take that article out, add this article in It is no wonder that our Parliamentarians have given up doing anything with legal connotations, because they would not know where to start! Abdullah explained to his father the predicament he saw in all the amendment work being carried out.
Son, there is nothing wrong with amending the Constitution, even the United States amends its Constitution from time to time said Nasr.
I have to hand it to our legal geniuses up there, they have already exceeded the number of amendments to the Constitution of the United States, which were entered over 220 years in just the space of ten years. We truly have the makings of a great power, said Fatima.
But Fatima, the amendments to the American Constitution were normally additions, and seldom touched on the major essence of the text of the Constitution. After the proposed amendments to our Constitution are put in, we will never be able to tell what the amendment document looked like! said Abdullah.
Why should that worry you? Samira said.
Mom, I am a law student, and the only reason I have not finished getting my law degree is because I am having trouble memorizing the Constitution complained Abdullah to his understanding mother.
How do the other students manage to get over this problem? asked Fatima, somewhat confused by her sons predicament.
They simply major in Shariaa Law, where all they have to memorize is the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), which have remained intact for hundreds of years. But your idiot son decided to go into Constitutional Law, and more specifically the Constitutional Law of Yemen, where I hoped to get a Doctoral degree, since nobody ever touched upon the subject in any university in the world. I only found out later that in most universities of the world the Constitutional Law of Yemen has been put on the blacklist of majors of study to take, because for all intents and purposes there is no permanent Constitution of the Republic of Yemen! explained Abdullah.
Fatima asked: Did they explain why they were amending the Constitution so drastically? Has there been popular calls for the amendment of the Constitution to improve the human rights situation in the country, as in the case of other democracies?
Nasr helped his wife: Son, your mother was asking, did our Constitution need amendment?
Abdullah answered both of them: Do they ever explain why they ever do anything? No, the call for amendments came from the top, and not from the bottom, as is the case in democratic societies, to which we have yet to be accepted as being among the democracies of the world. As for the need of the Constitution to be amended, there is no record of any test cases or issues that have risen to the surface which make the present Constitution unsuitable for handling. One Professor in our rapidly sinking University noted: whenever there is an infraction of the law, or one is anticipated, we mete out our punishment to the law rather than the offender, thus laws are meant to satisfy the wishes of those who find it so easy to obtain legitimacy for all their wrongdoing! I tend to agree with him, only adding that, for all intents and purposes laws are meant to assure that those who thrive on mischief in our country, have all the legal support they need to uphold their evil deeds.
Abdullah, but now we have a Parliament that is going to raise a lot of questions. After all, what did we elect them for? said Samira.
Mom, said Fatima, you do not expect those illiterates to really understand what their real job is do you? They do not care how many times the Constitution is amended, nor do they care about what they are really suppose to do, in terms of insuring that the rights and interests of the citizens are upheld. All they care about is making sure that their remuneration places them among the elite, and that their health insurance is provided for.
You are all making it difficult for poor Nasr here to determine what he should do with himself, now that he is in his final year in Law School said Fatima, feeling sorry now for her sons predicament.
Poor Abdullah, even if he goes to another country to work, they will not accept him because they are afraid that his major in the Constitutional Law of Yemen will lead him to threaten their Constitutional stability by continuously recommending that the Constitution of the country he goes to be amended every three months to go along with the changing seasons, said the father, signaling to his wife to bring in the lunch.
But, father the amendments that are undertaken here are not for the sake of meeting the aspirations of a people who have lost all sense of optimism to even have any aspirations anymore, nor are they to coincide with any natural developments that confront the country, nor are they in keeping with the international and regional scene. Our constitutional amendments are merely to adapt to the interests of those who insist that all you people have is what we give you, whether you like or not!
* Probably the greatest Arab poet, who has ever lived (915 965 AD)