Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Mediating the constitution

A third of the Constituent Assembly may still withdraw if Islamists refuse to compromise over controversial articles, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Leading non-Islamist members of the Constituent Assembly continue to threaten a collective pullout should the ruling Muslim Brotherhood group and their ultra-conservative allies in the Salafist Nour Party insist on rushing the process of approving the draft constitution and including articles they believe will lead to a religious state.
Former presidential candidate and ex-Arab League Chief Amr Moussa, who is also a member of the Assembly, announced late Tuesday that 30 non-Islamist members have decided to boycott its meetings after failing to reach agreement on controversial articles with Islamist members. He added that they would announce an official withdrawal on Sunday if their demands were not met.
The mainly liberal and leftist members of the Assembly were expected to announce that same decision in a news conference on 10 November. Informed sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that the decision had been postponed “by a few days” in order to allow more time for negotiations.
“A number of members requested that we continue negotiations with the Muslim Brotherhood, and we agreed,” said Emad Gad, vicepresident of the Social Democratic Party and one of the most outspoken critics of President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which he hails.
“We want all supporters of a civil state to withdraw together. We don’t mind waiting for a few days if that’s what’s needed,” he added. That decision was obviously reached on Tuesday night.
Gad notes that “we are heading towards mission impossible because of the short deadline the Brotherhood and their supporters have set to wrap up the process of drafting the constitution.”
“It is practically impossible to finish on time,” he told the Weekly, adding that non-Islamist parties had proposed extending the deadline to finish the draft by a few months only for the suggestion to be rejected by President Morsi and the Brotherhood.
The speaker of the Constituent Assembly, Hossam Al-Ghiriani, announced that discussions of the latest should conclude by the end of the month. The draft will then be sent to the president who will set a date for a public referendum. The Constitutional Declaration, which has served as the legislative framework since the removal of president Hosni Mubarak, allows the Constituent Assembly six months to finish drafting a constitution. Should it fail to meet the deadline the president is empowered to appoint a new 100-member assembly.
The deicsion by non-Islamist memebrs of the Assembly to suspend their participation in its sessions came as no surprise. Heated discussions took place on Monday and Tuesday amid a sharp exchange of accusations. The most heated debates continued to centre on the second article of the draft constitution which states that “principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation”.
Liberal, leftist and centrist members of the assembly argue that no change should be made to the article if the civil nature of the state is to be maintained. Some members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Salafist Nour Party, have proposed a new article glossing the phrase “principles of Islamic Sharia” by adding: “Principles of Islamic Sharia include its definitive rules, religious regulations and its agreed sources in the Sunni schools of jurisdiction.”
For non-Islamist parties the proposed article, together with a second naming Al-Azhar as the sole arbiter on matters of Islamic law, would lead to the creation of a religious state in which Muslim scholars, and not an elected parliament, determine legislation.
Opposition to the two articles is not limited to liberal and leftist parties, but includes women’s organisations and representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church. During a visit by members of the Press Syndicate board of directors to newly elected Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Church implied that its representatives would pull out of the assembly if any additions were made to the second article of the draft constitution.
Representatives of women’s groups who met with President Morsi on Monday, as well as leading human rights groups, have expressed dismay at attempts by the Brotherhood and the Salafis to add the phrase “in accordance with Islamic law” to articles concerning gender equality, freedom of expression and freedom of belief. Representatives of 21 leading human rights organisations sent a joint letter to Morsi on Tuesday asking him not to exclude them from discussions on the constitution and to canvas their views on human rights and public freedoms in the new draft.
Judges have also expressed reservations over articles in the draft that they believe compromise their independence. Some have even threatened to refuse to supervise the upcoming referendum in protest. Trade unions also announced they would vote against the draft if articles dating back to the 1960s, guaranteeing a 50 per cent parliamentary quota for workers and peasants, are cancelled.
Meanwhile, President Morsi has continued his meetings with representatives of political parties and public figures in an attempt to solve differences over the latest draft circulating among members of the Assembly. He met on Tuesday afternoon with former presidential candidate Mohamed Al-Baradie, who now heads the newly created Al-Dostour, or Constitution, Party. That came after similar meetings last week with key former presidential candidates, Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Monem Aboul-Fotouh. There have been no signs, however, that the presidency is moving any closer to considering the key demands of non-Islamist parties or to extending the deadline for the new draft.
“President Morsi believes that Egypt urgently needs to reach an agreement on the new constitution. The current lack of stability is negatively affecting the country and its economy,” said presidential spokesman Yasser Ali.
Leading opposition figures who have taken part in closed meetings with Morsi say he stressed the dire economic straits in which Egypt has been placed, arguing that a constitution is urgently needed so that parliamentary elections can be held and key legislation, including that needed for a $4.8 billion IMF loan, passed.
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a leading member of the Social Democratic Party, says attempts by Islamist parties “to impose their views, and to abuse their majority on the assembly, will lead to a catastrophic withdrawal from the Constituent Assembly of supporters of a civil state and a boycott of any referendum”.
“This means that the Islamists will write Egypt’s constitution alone, will vote on it alone, and that Egypt belongs to them alone.”
Abul-Ghar asked President Morsi to seriously consider restructuring of the current assembly in order to fix what he sees as an “original mistake” — that the now dissolved parliament, in which Islamists held a 70 per cent majority, was given the right to “elect” members of the assembly tasked with drafting the new constitution. This ensured that the Constituent Assembly would have an inbuilt Islamist majority.
Abul-Ghar asked the president to expand the assembly by including 50 new members, and to extend the deadline for debate.
“It is impossible to finalise the draft in less than a month given that we also need time to explain it to the Egyptian people before they go to cast their ballot in a referendum.”

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