Islamists on the Constituent Assembly are steamrolling through constitutional drafts that will turn Egypt into a non-civil state, Gamal Essam El-Din
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the two Salafist parties -- the Nour (Light) and Asala (Fundamentalist) -- are exploiting their majority on the 100-member Constituent Assembly to Islamise several articles of the 1971 constitution. Liberal and civilian forces which are boycotting the assembly say the changes could put an end to Egypt as a moderate Muslim country.
On 22 July the assembly's media spokesman Wahid Abdel-Meguid said the Basic Components Committee had finalised 39 articles of the new constitution.
"The assembly's five committees are expected to finish their job within two weeks," announced Abdel-Maguid. "The next step will be for the drafting committee to incorporate the texts into a final draft."
The assembly's Basic Components Committee approved the request of Salafis to add the word shura (consultative) to Article 1. Chairman of the committee Mohamed Emara said the article now reads: "The Arab Republic of Egypt is a sovereign, unified and indivisible state, and its political system is a democratic one adopting the principles of Shura, pluralism, and citizenship, which make all citizens equal in rights and duties." It adds that "the Egyptian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nation, with strong ties to the Nile Basin, the African Continent and the Asian extension".
It is markedly different from the simpler 1971 text: "The Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic state based on citizenship. The Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation and work for the realisation of its comprehensive unity."
The addition of the word shura, said Emara, was proposed by the Salafist Nour Party. "Shura, a Quranic term, means democratic in the sense that rulers should listen to representatives of the nation and consult with them before deciding major issues."
In 1980, in a bid to curry favour with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups former president Anwar El-Sadat created the Shura Council and changed Article 2 of the constitution to state that "the principles of Islamic Sharia form the major source of legislation in Egypt."
The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis' want articles 2 and 3 of the 1971 constitution changed. Salafis insist on removing the reference to "principles" from Article 2 on the grounds that it allows judges to avoid strictly implementing Sharia law.
Adel Afifi, chairman of the Salafist Asala Party, says his party wants the article to bluntly state that "Islamic Sharia is the major source of legislation in Egypt." According to Afifi, "it would be haram [forbidden by Islam] to vote on a constitution stating that Egypt adopts the principles of Sharia."
The change would pave the way for the introduction of hodoud, Islamic punishments that include the amputation of limbs and stoning to death.
The Salafist party faced no objection from the FJP when it insisted if the word "principle" was retained it must be followed by the clause that "legislators should refer to Islam's four schools of jurisprudence when drafting laws." Salafist and Brotherhood members of the committee also launched a joint attack on the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, accusing him of adopting a negative position towards Sharia and undermining attempts to apply "God's laws".
El-Tayeb has repeatedly stated that Article 2 of the 1971 constitution must remain unchanged and that any laws that violate the principles of Sharia under Article 2 be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).
One variant draft of Article 2, revealed Abdel-Meguid, states that "Islam is the religion of the state; Arabic is the official language of the state; and principles of Islamic Sharia are the major source of legislation," but includes the coda that "Al-Azhar is the final reference on interpreting the principles of Islamic Sharia and non-Muslims, especially the followers of Christianity and Judaism, should refer to their religions on personal matters, religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders."
Civil groups and liberal forces have objected to making Al-Azhar the final reference on interpreting Sharia principles. Nabil Abdel-Fattah, an Al-Ahram expert on religious institutions, argues that "Al-Azhar could use this article to impose censorship on publications and media channels, and certainly will do if it falls under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis".
Article 3, which currently states "sovereignty is for the people alone and they are the source of authority“ê¶ the people shall exercise and protect this sovereignty, and safeguard national unity in the manner specified in the constitution", is also being targeted for revision by Salafis who want to remove the phrase "the people" in the second sentence and replace it with "God".
Such a change, secularists fear, lays the foundation for a theocratic state, a position with which Abdel-Meguid agrees.
Salafi and Brotherhood members of the Constituent Assembly have scored their biggest success so far over Article 5 which had hitherto banned political parties founded on religion. In the face of pressure from Islamists the new draft of the article replaces the outright ban with the formula that "political parties can never be based on separation among citizens upon grounds of sex, race or religion".
The Salafis and Brotherhood are also pushing for a new article that reads: "It is strictly forbidden to speak ill of the Divine Self or the Prophets of God, the Mothers of the Believers [Wives of the Prophet Mohamed] and the Wise Caliphs."
"This article," says Abdel-Fattah, "will be used to impose strict censorship on any thinker offering interpretations of the Quran and Islamic history that challenge the hardliners. Religious fanatics will use it to try those who question their interpretation on charges of blasphemy."
Islamists on the assembly have also demanded an end to what they term "socialist articles", particularly the reserving of 50 per cent of parliamentary seats for representatives of workers and farmers. In this they are joined by some secular forces. The liberal-oriented Wafd Party has argued that "it is better for workers and farmers to form political parties to fight for their interests rather than enjoying a fixed quota in parliament".
The assembly's five committees, says Abdel-Meguid, should complete their job within two weeks. "The approved texts will then be referred to a plenary meeting of the 100-member Constituent Assembly which will discuss them article by article before a final draft is presented to the public in a yes-or-no referendum."
That, at least, is the putative timetable. Should the Administrative Court next week invalidate the constituent assembly on the grounds that it is unrepresentative, which most analysts expect, then the whole process is once again up in the air.