Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1121, 8-14 November
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1121, 8-14 November

Ahram Weekly

The constitution goes to the vote

Voting on the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution will begin next week even in the absence of agreement between the country’s secularists and Islamists, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

An article-by-article discussion of Egypt’s draft constitution will begin next Sunday, and, following this, the constitution will be voted on by the country’s Constituent Assembly, the 100-member body tasked with drafting the new constitution.
According to assembly member Mohamed Mohieddin, the vote is expected to take place during the second half of this month. “Once the vote is completed, a final copy of the draft will be sent to the president of the republic, after which it will be put up for public referendum,” Mohieddin said.
He said that the assembly had moved closer to a final draft of the new constitution after members reached agreement on 95 per cent of the articles, or 230 out of a total of 240. “The 10 remaining sticking points deal with such tricky issues as the powers of the president, the prime minister, the two houses of parliament and local councils,” Mohieddin said.
On 5 November, the assembly took the first step of discussing 102 articles from the draft constitution. As part of a section entitled “the Nation and Society”, Article 1 states that the “Arab Republic of Egypt is an independent country with a democratic political system and forms an integral part of the Arab and Islamic nation.”
The section retains the controversial Article 2, which states that “the religion of the state is Islam and the principles of Islamic Sharia represent the major source of legislation in Egypt.”
The ultraconservative Salafis say that they have reached a compromise with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who form the assembly’s majority, to the effect that the word “principles” will be retained, but an explanatory article will be added defining these principles as those emanating from the Quran, the Hadith (the Prophet Mohamed’s sayings and traditions), and the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
The Salafis had previously pressed hard for dropping the word “principles” in favour of replacing it with the word “rulings”, or simply stating that “Islamic Sharia is the principle source of legislation in Egypt.”
Mohamed Fouad Gadallah, legal adviser to President Mohamed Morsi and a Brotherhood member of the assembly, said that “the definition of the principles of Sharia should no longer be left to the Supreme Constitutional Court to decide,” since this has not taken account of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence since 1996.
Article 3 of the draft states that Christians and Jews in Egypt can refer to their own spiritual laws and leaders on personal matters and on religious affairs. Article 4 states that Al-Azhar is an independent Islamic institution whose main job is to give opinions on matters relating to Islamic Sharia.
Article 5 states that “sovereignty lies with the people, who are entrusted with preserving national unity.” The Salafis had pushed hard to have the word “people” dropped and replaced with the text “supremacy lies with God.”
According to Article 6 of the draft, the democratic system in Egypt is based on the principles of shura (consultation) and citizenship, as well as the multi-party system, the rule of law and the peaceful rotation of power.
The same article states that political parties cannot be based on dividing citizens on the grounds of religion, sex or race. This is far from the text of the previous 2007 article, introduced during the regime led by ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, which banned the formation of religious parties.
Some 14 articles, numbers 13 to 27, describe the future economic ideology of Egypt. Article 13 refrains from defining this ideology, but it says that the national economy aims at achieving the sustainable development of the country and realising social justice by setting a minimum wage.
Article 14 states that agriculture is the backbone of the Egyptian economy and that achieving food self-sufficiency is a major economic goal. It also states that industry is a cornerstone of economic development and that the state will do its utmost to develop high-technology industries.
Article 18 states that all forms of ownership are allowed. Article 26 states that nationalisation can be adopted only in cases where it serves the public interest and after paying compensation to previous owners. The same is true of sequestration, which can only be implemented by judicial order.
The second group of articles, numbers 28 to 80, come under the heading of the section on “Rights and Freedoms”. They ban torture in prison or at police stations, and they say that the private lives of citizens must be protected and that they cannot be subjected to wiretapping.
Article 40 states that religious freedom is a basic value, but it imposes a ban on blasphemy.
The group of articles also bans media censorship, but Article 43 states that this can be implemented during wartime. It also sets out the freedoms of speech and assembly. It strictly bans the police from interfering in the affairs of political parties or in general elections.
Article 68 is the most controversial because it makes gender equality conditional on Islamic Sharia. The article states that the state will take all necessary measures to ensure that there is “complete equality between men and women in the political, cultural and economic sectors of life without violating the principles of Islamic Sharia”.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the Muslim Brotherhood justified its stance on retaining this article by insisting that it was necessary in order to ensure that “international treaties that call for violating Sharia in any way cannot achieve such purposes, like attempts to legalise homosexuality or sexual relations outside wedlock and so on”.
Articles 80 to 102 deal with the public authorities, among them the legislative branch of government which will be composed of two houses of parliament, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Article 81 states that no one can be a member of both houses and that the Court of Cassation is solely authorised to investigate the legality of parliamentary membership. Article 99 states that the two houses of parliament are entrusted with proposing and debating the laws, but Senate members cannot propose tax laws.
The articles ban MPs doing business with the government while they are members of the parliament.
According to assembly chair, Hossam Al-Ghiriani, these 102 articles had gained the agreement of most members. “For this reason, we decided that we could begin discussing them next week and leave the remaining articles, which include most of the sticking points, to the next stage of the discussions,” he said.
When discussion of the first article of the draft constitution began on 5 November, it took more than one hour to discuss a single article. This led Al-Ghiriani to change the style of discussion, urging members to submit their proposed amendments in written form.
“A special committee will be formed to revise these amendments and put them up for a vote next week, and in this way we will not waste time and will expedite the vote on the draft constitution,” Al-Ghiriani said.
Sobhi Saleh, a senior Muslim Brotherhood lawyer and a member of the assembly, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the assembly’s activities will come to a close within one or two weeks at best and after finalising the vote on the draft constitution.”
Saleh said that “in order to be passed each article should first gain the approval of 67 members. If it does not, a second round of voting will be conducted after 48 hours, and in such cases it will be required that the article gains the approval of 57 members only.”
Joining forces with other Islamists, Sobhi insisted that members had reached agreement on 95 per cent of the articles in the draft constitution.
Many secularists, however, beg to differ with what the Islamists say, and Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League, denied that agreement had been reached.
“I also warn that some are threatening that they will use their majority to get the articles of the constitution passed the way they want,” Moussa said, arguing that “consensus rather than majority should be the rule at the time of voting on the constitution’s articles.”
He said that “a third of the members of the assembly, mostly secularists, have submitted documents containing amendments to a large number of the articles in the draft constitution.”
“I urge the Islamists to endorse these documents, in order to reach a consensus on the controversial articles,” Moussa said.
Other liberal members of the assembly such as Ayman Nour, chair of the Ghad Al-Thawra Party, also said that “there is still wide disagreement between liberals and Islamists on several articles, but we will stay until the end and if the civil forces get what they want they will withdraw.”
Salah Hasaballah, a liberal member of the assembly, told the Weekly that “the disagreements between the liberals and Islamists include a large number of articles, as well as the sweeping powers granted to the president of the republic. Other disagreements are on the articles dealing with Islamic Sharia, press freedoms and the powers granted to the military and judicial authorities.”

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