Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Battling for a final draft

As the Constituent Assembly enters the home stretch the process of drafting a new constitution is as tortured as ever, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Three weeks before the final draft constitution is due to be referred to President Mohamed Morsi and any consensus between political forces over what the document should contain appears as elusive as ever. Constituent Assembly members representing civil political forces decided on Tuesday evening, following an extended meeting, to freeze their membership and set next Sunday as a deadline for meeting their demands. Otherwise, they will withdraw from the assembly.
The current tussle between Islamists and secularists on the Constituent Assembly — the body tasked with drafting the constitution — has focussed on procedural issues. The latter, led by former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa, have objected to the six-member committee formed by the assembly’s chairman, Hossam Al-Ghiriani, to take charge of writing a final draft.
Moussa argued that the six members had been chosen on partisan grounds and the committee should be expanded to ensure it is “more balanced and unbiased”. He suggested that liberal political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid and secular lawyer Gaber Nassar join the committee.
Al-Ghiriani defended his decision, arguing that its members were selected on the basis of long experience. “One of them — Hamed Hassan [an Islamist professor of constitutional law] — contributed to the writing of the constitutions of several countries,” said Al-Ghiriani. Moussa responded by pointing out that “Hassan’s experience is limited to helping formulate the constitutions of Islamist countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
On Monday the assembly reviewed amendments to the 28 articles of the draft constitution’s first chapter. It agreed the final text of 14 and referred the remainder to the writing-committee to be re-drafted.
Among the articles on which agreement could not be reached is Article 4 regulating the selection of the grand imam of Al-Azhar.
Hassan Al-Shafei, Al-Azhar’s representative on the committee, objected to the article’s provision that the imam can serve no more than four years and can be dismissed during his term by the president of the republic.
“The election and dismissal of the sheikh of Al-Azhar should be in the hands of the institution’s council of senior clerics,” said Al-Shafei.
Gamal Gibriel, chairman of the assembly’s System of Governance Committee, responded by asking “why should the sheikh of Al-Azhar not be subject to the same rules that apply to the president of the republic and prosecutor-general, both of whom will be limited to a four-year term.”
Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Rahman Al-Bir insisted the sheikh of Al-Azhar was a state employee who, like other civil servants, could be hired and fired by the president.
Moussa argued that Article 4 should clearly indicate that “Al-Azhar’s primary role is to defend moderate Islam, boost tolerance and strengthen national unity.”
As expected, Monday night’s debate became most heated over Article 2 which states that “the religion of the state is Islam; the official language is Arabic; and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the major source of legislation in Egypt.”
Islamists — led by the ultraconservative Salafis — fired a volley of amendments, with some insisting an explanatory article glossing these principles as emanating from the Quran, the Hadith (the Prophet Mohamed’s sayings and traditions, and the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence), be added. Secularists were unanimous in their rejection of any explanatory notes.
“This is not a religious constitution that has to be filled with endless articles dealing with religious matters,” said a memo submitted by Moussa. “The draft of Article 2 should be left as it is in the 1971 constitution.”
In a bad-tempered verbal exchange while discussing Article 2 Moussa accused Al-Ghiriani of trying to force the assembly “to rubber-stamp the draft constitution in lieu of any serious discussion”.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party attempted to contain the row while making it clear that they supported the inclusion of an explanatory article. Article 2, and the explanatory Article 220, were consequently referred back to the writing committee.
Newly elected Pope Tawadros II joined the fray on Monday.
“Egypt’s Copts,” he said, “are in favour of retaining the 1971 text of Article 2.”
He added that the Church was in consultation with Al-Azhar which also believes the article should be left as it is. Tawadros II went on to threaten that the Church’s representatives would withdraw if the article was amended to satisfy radicals on the assembly.
Article 6, which states that the democratic system of Egypt is based on the principles of Shura (consultation) was also the subject of controversy. Ayman Nour argued that “Shura” was redundant and the article should be shortened to state that “the political system of Egypt is based on democracy and the principles of citizenship and a multi-party system.”
Many assembly members were surprised when Hatem Azzam, a former MP fired by the liberal Civilisation who only recently joined the assembly as replacement for boycotting activists, proposed an article banning leading officials of Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) from standing in presidential or parliamentary elections for 10 years.
The proposal was put to a vote and approved by the assembly’s Islamist majority.
In a statement issued the following day the Alliance of Egypt’s Deputies — which includes 260 NDP diehards — predicted that “the constitutionalisation of political disenfranchisement will have damaging effects.”
“Some of the most prominent political activists, including the liberal analysts Wahid Abdel-Meguid, Amr Hamzawy and Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, the newly elected chairman of the liberal-oriented Democratic Front Party, who were members of Gamal Mubarak’s Policy Secretariat, will be barred from standing in upcoming elections.”
“Azzam’s proposal,” the statement continued, “provides clear evidence that the constitution is being tailored to serve the partisan interests.”
Professor of constitutional law Ibrahim Darwish told Al-Ahram Weekly that “if passed, it will be the first time an Egyptian constitution strips a faction of its political rights.”
Darwish went on to accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind the “disenfranchisement” article.
During the assembly’s meeting on Monday with three prominent secularists — Moussa, Nassar and Kifaya coordinator Abdel-Gelil Mustafa — the three walked out in protest at what they said was Al-Ghiriani’s dictatorial style in running the debates.
Differences between the assembly and the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) also surfaced.  
SCC Deputy Chairman Hossam Bagato heavily criticised an article stating the court should deliver its verdict on the constitutionality of political laws before they go into effect.
The Supreme Judicial Council complained that the draft constitution strips ordinary courts and the prosecution-general of many of their powers and compromises their independence. The Judges Club has threatened to refuse to monitor upcoming elections if its amendments to the draft constitution are ignored by the assembly.
The General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions, meanwhile, says it will organise a mass demonstration in Tahrir Square should the assembly tinker with the 50 per cent quota of People’s Assembly seats currently reserved for workers and farmers.
A final draft of the constitution is supposed to be ready by 19 November.
“We will begin by voting on the first chapter, the State and Society, on Monday, followed by the chapter on Freedoms and Rights on Tuesday; the chapter on the System of Governance on Wednesday; and then the chapter on Independent Institutions and Authorities,” announced Al-Ghiriani.
After the final draft is completed assembly members will vote on it article by article. The assembly will then present the approved draft to President Mohamed Morsi who will put it to a nationwide referendum for a final endorsement.

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