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

Ahram Weekly

A push for consensus

President Mohamed Morsi meets former presidential rivals in an attempt to hammer out an agreement over a new constitution, Khaled Dawoud reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

A month before the deadline for finishing the draft constitution President Mohamed Morsi met with former presidential rivals Amr Moussa, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabahi. The meeting earlier this week was the first time Morsi had sat with his rivals since being elected. Morsi also plans to meet with leading reformer Mohamed Al-Baradei, who pulled out of the presidential race in May, though until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press no date had been set for the meeting. Al-Baradei now leads the Dostour (Constitution) Party.
Presidential advisors have let it be known that Morsi took the initiative to call his opponents in a move intended to underline his commitment to securing a consensus over Egypt’s new constitution. Sabahi, in particular, has been a vocal critic of Morsi’s record since being elected, and of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, from whose ranks Morsi hails.
Morsi’s personal involvement has helped calm the tense atmosphere surrounding the drafting of the new constitution. Liberal, leftist and women’s groups have accused the Muslim Brotherhood, and its even more conservative Salafi allies of seeking to use their majority on the 100-member Constituent Assembly to create an Islamic state that adopts their narrow interpretation of Islamic Sharia.
Sabahi was full of smiles after he came out from his meeting with Morsi, saying he could confirm that the meeting “would not be the last”. According to Sabahi, Morsi was “in listening mode” and intended to hear a full range of views on the draft constitution due to be finalised before 12 December.
Under the Constitutional Declaration adopted by referendum  few months after the removal of President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011, the Constituent Assembly should finalise a draft within six months. The current Constituent Assembly began sitting on 12 June. If for any reason they are unable to finish the task then it will fall on the president to appoint a new Constituent Assembly, a scenario which Islamist parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, strongly oppose.
Islamist parties argue that the current assembly reflects the will of the people as represented in the parliamentary elections held late last year. Under the Constitutional Declaration the People’s Assembly — dissolved in June by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) following a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that the election law was itself unconstitutional — had been given responsibility to select the 100 members of the Constituent Assembly.
Political parties battling to protect the civilian nature of the state accused the Islamists of using their majority in the dissolved parliament to ensure the Constituent Assembly would be controlled by those who support the creation of an Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood charges and insists the assembly is representative of the people.
Shortly before the People’s Assembly was dissolved it approved a law allowing articles to enter the draft constitution on the basis of a simple 50+1 majority vote in the Constituent Assembly. Liberals and leftists have long claimed the Islamists have an inbuilt majority of 10 on the assembly.
Moussa, who now leads the Congress Party — an amalgam of more than a dozen of small liberal parties — is viewed with suspicion by radical youth groups for his strong links with the Mubarak regime. A member of the Constituent Assembly, he has spurned calls from liberal and leftist parties to resign, arguing it was possible to reach a compromise with the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis on a constitution that would maintain Egypt as a civil state. He told reporters that he had conveyed to the president his views that the new constitution “could not be rushed and that in the event consensus could not be reached over the draft a two thirds majority should be required before articles were incorporated.”
Abul-Fotouh appeared to be closely aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi position that the draft constitution be finished on time and placed before the public in a referendum before the end of the year. He did, however, criticise several articles circulated among assembly members and which they began to debate on Sunday. Abul-Fotouh said the current draft continued to grant the president and the military unjustified exceptional powers at the expense of supervisory bodies.
A host of other meetings have taken place at the presidential palace this week. The president and his senior advisors have held discussions with political party heads, youth leaders and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The Dostour Party Deputy President Ahmed Al-Boraai, who met Morsi on Monday with other political leaders, said he believed the president’s attempts to address differences over the draft constitution represented “a positive initiative”. He noted that even though agreeing on the constitution was a top priority “we must also address other pressing needs, the deteriorating economic situation being top of the list”.
Urgently needed legislation must wait until a new People’s Assembly is sitting but parliamentary elections are unlikely to be held before a new constitution is approved. President Morsi now holds both executive and legislative powers. He has vowed not to abuse his legislative powers, and said that he would prefer a new parliament to be in place at the earliest opportunity.
Despite the positive statements that followed Morsi’s meetings with his political rivals, no details have emerged of any concrete proposals that might overcome current differences over the structure of the assembly. Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali has said in statements that the process of drafting the constitution “is coming to an end, and there is near agreement on 80 per cent of the articles”. Such comments suggest Morsi is not in favour of restructuring the assembly or extending its deadline. Should this be the case, he faces the difficult task of persuading his Islamist allies to abandon key articles related to Sharia.
Ali also said the president opposed the suggestion made by some liberal figures that a temporary constitution be adopted for one or two years in order to circumvent current differences between secular and Islamist parties.

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