An Egyptian army soldier patrols outside the Egyptian presidential palace on Monday, December 10, in Cairo. The Egyptian political crisis erupted last month when President Mohamed Morsy issued an edict allowing himself to run the country unchecked until the drafting of a new constitution.
Members of the Egyptian opposition gather for a protest outside the presidential palace on Sunday, December 9, in Cairo. The palace has been the scene of violent clashes pitting thousands of protesters -- for and against Morsy.
Guy Fawkes masks are displayed by a street vendor in front of the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo on December 9. The masks depict Fawkes, a rebel executed in England's Gunpowder Plot seeking to blow up the House of Lords in the early 1600s.
Egyptian army engineers and soldiers build a third line of concrete blocks outside of the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo in preparation for more protests on December 9.
An Egyptian protester sweeps the street near army tanks deployed outside the presidential palace in Cairo on December 8, after continued protests overnight.
A sticker depicting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy reads "leave" on the ground near the presidential palace on December 8.
Egyptian soldiers take position on a road leading to the presidential palace on December 8.
A protester tries to climb over a barbed-wire fence as Egyptian soldiers stand guard during a demonstration near the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday, December 7.
Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy and members of the Muslim Brotherhood shout during the funerals of fellow Morsy supporters at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo on December 7.
Protesters angry over Morsy's decisions giving himself unchecked powers surround the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo after starting a fire inside the compound on Thursday, December 6.
Riot police form a line as anti-Morsy protesters surge around the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo on December 6.
An anti-Morsy protester shouts during a march to the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, on December 6.
Protesters are blocked from approaching the the presidential palace by the Egyptian army on December 6 in Cairo.
Egyptian soldiers stand outside the presidential palace in Cairo after setting up barbed wire barricades on December 6.
Supporters of Morsy clash with anti-Morsy protesters outside the Egyptian presidential palace on Wednesday, December 5, in Cairo.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsy supporters destroy tents of anti-Morsy protesters outside the presidential palace on December 5.
Morsy supporters carry an injured man to safety during clashes with anti-Morsy demonstrators on a road leading to the Egyptian presidential palace on December 5.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Morsy clash with anti-Morsy demonstrators on a road leading to the Egyptian presidential palace on December 5.
Egyptian riot police stand behind barbwire as thousands of Egyptian demonstrators march to the presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday, December 4.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators encircled the presidential palace in Cairo after riot police failed to keep them at bay with tear gas on December 4.
An Egyptian woman waves a national flag as demonstrators march to the presidential palace in Cairo on December 4.
A Morsy supporter waves a flag outside the Supreme Constitutional Court as hundreds of supporters of the president protest on Sunday, December 2, in Cairo, forcing judges to postpone a hearing on a constitutional panel at the heart of a deepening political crisis.
Supporters of Morsy pray outside the Supreme Constitutional Court on December 2.
A man kisses a portrait of Morsy during a gathering of thousands of Islamists in front of Cairo University on Saturday, December 1.
Thousands pray during a rally in support of Morsy in front of Cairo University on December 1.
An Egyptian man delivers a speech as protesters gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday, November 30.
A man shouts as protesters gather in Tahrir Square on November 30.
A man holds a copy of the Quran and a cross in Tahrir Square on November 30.
Protesters run from Egyptian riot police during clashes near Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday, November 28.
A protester carries a rock during clashes with police on Wednesday.
Egyptians carry a giant national flag as tens of thousands take part in a mass rally in Cairo on Tuesday, November 27, against a decree by President Mohamed Morsy granting himself broad powers.
An Egyptian protester holds up a Quran and a figure of Christ on the cross during Tuesday's demonstration.
Protesters continue to rally in Tahrir Square on Tuesday.
An Egyptian protester attempts to throw back a tear gas canister on Tuesday during clashes with riot police in Omar Makram Street, off Tahrir Square.
Activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, November 26, carry the coffin of Gaber Salah, an activist who died overnight after he was critically injured in clashes in Cairo. Salah, a member of the April 6 movement known by his nickname "Jika," was injured last week during confrontations between police and protesters on Cairo's Mohammed Mahmud street.
Thousands of activists attend the funeral of Gaber Salah on Monday.
Protesters clash with Egyptian police at Simon Bolivar Square on Sunday, November 25, in Cairo. Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood called nationwide demonstrations in support of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy in his showdown with the judges over the path to a new constitution.
Egyptian protesters hurl stones at police at Tahrir Square on Sunday.
Protesters gather at sit-in tents in Tahrir Square on Sunday.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy waves to supporters in front of the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday, November 23. Thousands of ecstatic supporters gathered outside the presidential palace to defend their leader against accusations from rival protesters that he has become a dictator.
Morsy supporters gather outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday. Morsy insisted that Egypt was on the path to "freedom and democracy," as protesters held rival rallies over sweeping powers he assumed that further polarized the country's political forces.
Protesters demonstrating against Morsy run from tear gas fired by Egyptian riot police during clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday.
Egyptian protesters throw rocks toward riot police on Friday
Egyptian supporters and opponents of Morsy clash in the coastal city of Alexandria on Friday.
A man throws a rock during clashes in Alexandria on Friday.
Thousands of demonstrators march through the streets of Cairo to protest against Morsy on Friday.
Clashes rocked the coastal city of Alexandria on Friday.
Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.
(CNN) -- The Egyptian president and his Islamist friends had another think coming if they thought they could sneak a radical constitution past the people who fought for democracy in Tahrir Square.
The draft constitution, and the political maneuvers that made it possible, have sparked the rage of liberal and secular Egyptians, who fear their dream of a truly free Egypt, with genuine equality for men and women, for people of all religions, is slipping away.
Why is democracy proving so difficult, perhaps impossible, to put in place?
One reason stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what democracy means. In places where dictatorship has prevailed, many hold the incorrect belief that democracy equals majority rule. They think democracy is a method for imposing the views of those who win elections upon those who lose.
Clearly, elections and majorities are a key element of decision-making in a democracy. But just as important is establishing basic principles of fairness and justice, creating a consensus of what the nation considers fair, and then developing the institutions and rules that guarantee they will survive through the ups and downs of politics.
The creation of that foundation is known as the "constitutional moment," a crucial time in a nation's history when the people come together to decide what they believe, what truths they consider "self-evident." It's a moment that, ideally, sets aside the political fashions of the day. To succeed and create a stable future, it demands a measure of consensus.
The heart of the political battle in Egypt today lies in the proposed constitution, which President Mohamed Morsy insists he will bring up for a vote this week, a move the opposition calls an act of war."
Many countries are familiar with this process. Americans have studied the evolution of the national consensus that led to the U.S. Constitution, a document so brief and brilliant it is regarded with a depth of reverence usually reserved for mystical religious texts. The European Union has been wrestling with a constitutional document, unable to create one that builds true consensus.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the more radical Islamists known as Salafis dominated the country's first democratic elections and took their victories as a green light to ignore the views of the opposition.
Islamist parties had a head start in electoral politics, far ahead of secular and liberal parties. Under dictatorship, Islamist parties, though brutally persecuted, could carry their message through public services. The message of the Quran, now appropriated by Islamist parties, gave them a running advantage out of the political gate.
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Liberal parties have a complicated case to make. It not easy to explain that you can be devoutly Muslim and support the secular rule of law, for example. It is also easier to explain the fairness of majority rule than the concept that in democracy it is crucial to protect minorities.
With easy electoral victories, Islamists proceeded to implement their agenda, much faster than many expected. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, a man named Mohamed Morsy, had declared in 2011, "We are not seeking power."
The make-up of the panel that would write the constitution sparked bitter conflict from the beginning.
The assembly, which should have made the most of the country's precious constitutional moment, was supposed to include representatives of all segments of society, constitutional scholars, intellectuals, members of professional guilds, union members, writers; in short, views from all Egyptians.
The first panel was such a transparent power-grab by Islamists that the courts threw it out. A second assembly chosen in June proved just as controversial. Once again, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party used its muscle to pack it with supporters.
Non-Islamists, one by one, walked out of the constitution-writing body in frustration at the strong-arm tactics. Fearing the courts would invalidate the process, President Morsy essentially made himself dictator on November 22, the day after the rest of the world heaped praise on him for helping broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, providing a measure of political cover.
The opposition took to the streets, in what started to look like Revolution 2.0. Then Morsy ordered the constitutional assembly to hurry up and finish its work. In a mad rush, with a final session of 19 hours, the assembly approved a draft. By then, all the non-Islamists walked out.
The document, scheduled to go to voters for ratification on December 15, is an affront against democratic principles. It lays the groundwork for an eminently un-free future.
Trying to quiet the opposition, Morsy rescinded the decree that gave him absolute power, but he plans to go forward with a constitutional referendum, pushing forward a document littered with tiny seeds that can germinate into religious oppression. It is not surprising that it received high praise from Yasser Borhami, one of the country's top ultra-conservative clerics, who raved about its many "restraints on rights" and concluded, "This will not be a democracy that can allow what God forbids, or forbids what God allows."
The constitution says Sharia is the main source of legislation, and establishes that the (unelected) scholars of al-Azhar, the ancient center of Muslim learning, shall be consulted on Sharia matters. The draft speaks of equality for all, but orders that the state should "balance between a woman's obligations to family and public work." It also says the state must "protect ethics and morals and public order," and guard the "true nature of the family."
That alone is enough to justify every kind of interference in the personal lives of Egyptians, particularly women. The draft guarantees freedom of religion, but then says this is only for monotheist religions. It also bans "insulting prophets and messengers," opening the door to curtailments of speech, especially on religious grounds, and creating fears for Buddhists, Hindus, and followers of the persecuted Baha'i sect. This is just a sampler of what the constitutional draft brings.
The opposition, at last looking coherent and unified, faces a steep road ahead. Sadly, so does Egypt.
President Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood were not able to sneak their constitution in the dead of night. Instead, the entire country has seen the murkiness of the process. Instead of giving Egypt strong democratic underpinnings, they have built a brittle foundation for a deeply divided country.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.