Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Half way there

Amendments to the controversial articles of the suspended constitution are due to be drafted early next week, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

The process of amending Egypt’s suspended constitution is almost half way done. On 18 August, the Committee of Ten which is comprised of law experts and assigned with formulating amendments to the 2012 constitution is scheduled to submit the first draft to the president.

The amendments will then be referred to the Committee of Fifty, which includes in its membership figures representing various segments of society. Political parties, religious institutions, syndicates, unions, the army and the police are now in the process of presenting names of their representatives to the cabinet head, assigned by the July Constitutional Declaration to appoint members of the Committee of Fifty. At least 10 youths and 10 women should join the membership of the committee following a statement issued last week by the presidency defining the criteria for selecting committee members.

The members will include three from Al-Azhar, three from the Coptic Orthodox Church and four youth figures whose ages should not exceed 40.

The criteria are already set out in Article 29 of the constitutional declaration, issued on 8 July by Interim President Adli Mansour.

According to the presidency statement, this 50-member committee will come up with the final draft of the constitution within 60 days.

The president will then put the amended version of the constitution to a national referendum within 30 days of getting the final draft. It will be effective upon public approval.

However, the definition of the roles both committees will play in drafting the amendments, as yet unclear, is expected to make the drafting process not that easy.

Initially, it was said that the role of the Committee of Ten will end the moment it submits the preliminary draft. However, as the Committee of Fifty may insert additional amendments, this necessitates the presence of the Committee of Ten which should do the necessary formulation of the inserted amendments. Interviewed by the daily Al-Shorouk on 22 July, judge Ali Awad Saleh, head of the Committee of Ten, said, “it is most likely that the two committees would coordinate with each other in the drafting in order to get the best results and to avoid wasting time.”

Officially, the constitutional declaration did not make clear the fate of the committee. On the other hand, constitutional experts expect that the 10-member committee, even after submitting its own draft, would remain acting as a technical adviser to the Committee of Fifty.

“What I understand is that the Committee of Ten will be the technical office of the Committee of Fifty,” said Shawki Al-Sayed, a constitutional law expert.

He added that the Committee of Fifty represents the different sectors of society and hence most of its members lack the necessary legal experience. 

Shawki used the term “tailors” to describe the role of the Committee of Ten in the next two months.

The 2012 constitution was suspended as part of the Egyptian Armed Forces’ roadmap for Egypt’s future, defined in the wake of the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July.

Hassan Shahin, a spokesman of Tamarod, the campaign that collected millions of signatures of people who sought to withdraw confidence from Morsi, said Tamarod agreed to the criteria of selection, “as they ensure a representation of all classes and institutions, including Al-Azhar, the Coptic Church, trade unions and the tribes of Sinai”. Two Tamarod members were chosen in the Committee of Fifty.

“We need a consensus constitution that balances and consolidates legal, social and economic justice,” Shahin added. “We also demand job opportunities and free health insurance for all citizens.”

The four main political currents will be represented — Islamist and liberal parties will each have two representatives while leftist and nationalist parties will each choose one representative. The culture sector will choose its representatives who will be nominated by the Egyptian Writers Union, the Federation of Artistic Trade Unions, the Fine and Applied Arts Sector and the Supreme Council of Culture. The Armed Forces and the police will each select one representative.

Workers will be represented by two members, nominated by workers’ unions and associations. However, labour union leaderships demanded that workers should be given five seats as they represent almost 50 per cent of society.

Professional syndicates will get four representatives from the Doctors Syndicate, the Engineers Syndicate, the Lawyers Syndicate and the Press Syndicate. Farmers will get two representatives, nominated by farmers’ unions and associations.

Other associations will also get to choose representatives. The Federation of Chambers of Tourism, the Federation of Chamber of Industry and the Federation of Chambers of Trade will each nominate one person. Egypt’s Student Union will nominate one representative, and so will the General Union for Non-Governmental Organisations.

National councils — state run bodies — will also select candidates. The National Council for Women, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the National Council for Human Rights, the Supreme Council of Universities and the National Council for Challenging Disability will each nominate one person.

The cabinet will nominate 10 public figures reflecting Egypt’s diversity, including representatives from the Delta, Upper Egypt, Sinai, Marsa Matrouh, and Egypt’s Nubian minority.

Non-Islamist political forces repeatedly argued that the suspended constitution failed to represent all layers of society and restricted many freedoms, blaming the majority Islamist members of the outgoing constituent assembly for ignoring their recommendations.

Up until now, and with the exception of the Salafist Nour Party, most Islamists parties refused to join the membership of the Committee of Fifty. The Nour Party announced its preliminary approval on Monday. Despite its participation, the ultra-conservative party demanded the interim president revise the criteria for selecting committee members.

In a statement issued on Monday the Nour Party rejected the presidency’s allotment of only five seats to political parties, charging that limiting the participation of parties in deciding the country’s future mimics Hosni Mubarak’s policies which marginalised all players outside his own National Democratic Party.

The Nour Party, a one-time ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, had approved the roadmap announced by the army.

The party reiterated its stand against amending articles regarding Egypt’s “Islamic identity”, in reference to its defence of Article 221 of the suspended constitution.

Since 1971, the Egyptian constitution has broadly stated that the “principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation”, leaving it up to courts to interpret those principles.

However, Article 221, which was pushed by Salafis during deliberations on the suspended charter, offered a more strict interpretation of the “principles” of Islamic Sharia by broadening the source of those principles to the Quran, the sayings of the prophet, and the interpretations of the four main Sunni schools of Islamic jurisprudence, thus giving courts less leeway in interpreting what constitutes “principles”.

For many Nour Party members, Article 221 should not be touched.

On Thursday last week, Nour spokesman Nader Bakkar said in a televised interview with CNN that his party will reconsider its support for the army-backed political roadmap if the constitutional committee changes Article 221 of the 2012 constitution.

In this connection, it is expected that the Nour Party’s participation in the committee will not last long, bearing in mind the fact that the main opposition groups including the National Salvation Front and Tamarod now press for abolishing Article 221 of the constitution in addition to suggesting a new article that would ban the formation of religious parties like the Nour Party.

“Our most important priority is that the new constitution bans religious parties that have caused chaos in the political scene and fomented discrimination,” Tamarod’s Shahin said, pointing out that most political forces which participated in the 30 June Revolution reject Article 221.

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