The four main chapters of Egypt's new constitution have almost been drafted. Constitutional law professor Gamal Gibril said the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the constitution had divided the country's new national charter into four chapters -- "the basic components of the state"; "freedoms and rights"; "the system of government"; and "supervisory institutions."
According to Gibril, chairman of the assembly's System of Government Committee, almost 95 per cent of the new constitution has been drafted.
"I think that the first draft of the new constitution will be ready next week or the week after," said Gibril. He indicated that "while the three chapters on freedoms and rights; basic components of the state; and independent supervisory institutions have been completely drafted, the system of government needs more to be completed."
The System of Government Committee this week voted in favour of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi remaining in office for four years.
"The committee decided Mursi should stay in power until June 2016," said Gibril.
The decision dismayed secular political forces which have been calling for new presidential elections to be held after the constitution is drafted or, in some cases, after a transitional period of no more than two years.
Salah Hassaballah, the only member of the committee to vote against the decision, said "in most countries fresh presidential elections are held after the a new constitution is approved in a public referendum."
Professor of constitutional law Mohamed Nour Farahat argues that since "Mursi was elected under a constitutional declaration issued last year, once a new constitution is promulgated there should be new presidential elections."
The committee, says Gibril, also agreed that presidential candidates meet four conditions: "They must be 40 years or above and neither they nor their spouses can hold dual nationality. They must also secure the recommendations of 30,000 citizens from at least 15 governorates or the recommendations of 30 elected MPs from the People's Assembly and/or Shura Council."
Gibril also revealed any political party wishing to field a presidential candidate will be required to have at least five parliamentary seats, and in a run-off round the successful candidate must secure as a minimum 50 per cent of the vote plus one.
Gibril explained that there was a consensus on the Constituent Assembly in favour of a mixed parliamentary-presidential system. "This means that powers will be divided between the president and the prime minister, the latter representing the party that secured a majority in parliament."
"The president of the republic will retain responsibility for foreign policy, national security, defence and the declaration of any state of emergency," said Gibril.
Chairman of the assembly Hossam Al-Ghiriani said members remained divided over whether the upper consultative Shura Council should be retained and over which electoral system be used for the forthcoming parliamentary election. Ultraconservative Salafis are leading opposition against the retention of the Shura Council.
"Granting this council legislative powers will delay the passage of laws and lead to conflicts with the main legislative body, the People's Assembly," warned Salafi Shaaban Abdel-Alim.
Chairman of the council's Legislative Affairs Committee, Brotherhood lawyer Mohamed Touson, recommended the Shura Council be retained only if it was granted a meaningful legislative role.
"Either you abolish the council completely or keep it in place but with legislative powers," said Touson. He pointed out that more than three quarters of all states with populations in excess of 50 million have adopted a bicameral system and argued Egypt should follow this model since it will act to prevent "the dictatorship of one parliament" and guarantee that "laws are discussed thoroughly rather than being ruled unconstitutional by the courts at a later date".
The Muslim Brotherhood is strongly in favour of retaining the Shura Council, though the body would be rebranded as the Senate.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau and of the Constituent Assembly, proposes that the Shura Council include 180 elected members -- rather than the current 270 -- with mid-term elections held every three years.
Noureddin Ali, another member of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the assembly, suggested the constitution include an article preventing it from being changed for five years. "Similar provisions have been adopted in other countries to ensure political and constitutional stability," said Ali.
Ali also proposed that the president and both houses of parliament be allowed to propose changes to the constitution.
"Both the president and the People's Assembly were allowed to propose amendments under the 1971 constitution, though it was the president who got the upper hand in this respect," says Ali. "Under the new article no single authority will have absolute power to amend the constitution which will be good for the nation's democratisation process."
The System of Government Committee also agreed the president of the republic must secure the support of the Cabinet and two thirds of MPs before declaring a state of emergency, and that any extension of emergency laws beyond six months would have to be approved in a public referendum.
Ali said the committee had not yet reached a decision on the electoral system.
The Muslim Brotherhood favours a mixed electoral system.
"We proposed that 50 per cent of seats be elected under the individual candidacy system, and 50 per cent under a party-list system," says Brotherhood member Ghozlan. This proposal, however, was rejected in favour of scrapping individual candidacy altogether. The move, says committee's chairman Gibril, necessitates redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts.
The drive to retain individual candidacies was spearheaded by former members of the Mubarak regime.
Al-Ghiriani explained that the assembly's members have not yet reached a decision over the wording of Article 2, which deals with the status of Sharia. Salafis insist that the article reads that "the rules [rather than principles] of Islamic Sharia are the major source of legislation". They also argue that Al-Azhar -- rather than the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) -- be the main reference on all matters relating to Sharia.
Sheikh Hussein Al-Shafei, Al-Azhar's representative on the assembly, rejects the Salafis' argument.
"Al-Azhar does not want to be a reference, this should be left to the SCC," says Al-Shafei. "Al-Azhar is in favour of retaining the 1971 constitution's wording of Article 2."
Nasr Farid Wassel, a former grand mufti, insists that "the 1971 text is inclusive and reflects the opinion of the vast majority of Islamic clerics."
The assembly has decided to hold an exceptional session to discuss the chapter on freedoms and rights. The session was proposed by former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa who argued that articles in the chapter compromise press freedoms.