Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Constitution by committee

Liberals dominate the 50-member committee entrusted with writing a final draft of the new constitution, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

High-profile liberals dominate the 50-member committee tasked with writing a final draft of Egypt’s post-30 June constitution. Former presidential candidate Amr Moussa was elected committee chairman with 30 votes, beating Lawyers Syndicate Chairman Sameh Ashour who received 16 votes.
Mohamed Salmawy, the committee member in charge of counting votes, said 48 of the 50 members attended the session. Absent were Al-Sayed Mohamedein, chairman of Suez Canal University, and Bassam Al-Zarka, deputy chairman of the ultra-conservative Islamist Salafist Nour Party. Mohamedein is currently outside Egypt. Al-Zarka subsequently attended the committee’s meeting on Monday after the Nour Party voted at the last-minute to participate in the committee.
Moussa, a former minister of foreign affairs and secretary-general of the Arab League, promised “to move Egypt forward in terms of drafting a constitution that reflects the ideals of the two revolutions of January 2011 and June 2013”.
Moussa’s three deputies, also elected on Sunday, are renowned heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub — a Coptic Christian — human rights activist Mona Zul-Faqqar and Islamist thinker Kamal Al-Helbawi.
On Saturday Al-Helbawi told parliamentary correspondents that he is against mixing religion with politics. “I urge Islamist factions to abandon politics… my message to Islamists is that after one disastrous year in power they should keep away from politics in order to let the country move forward.”
Gaber Nassar, president of Cairo University and a professor of constitutional law, was elected as the 50-member committee’s rapporteur. Like Moussa, Nassar boycotted meetings of the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly which drafted Egypt’s 2012 constitution under the deposed regime of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Salmawy, chairman of the Egyptian Writers Union, was elected the committee’s media spokesperson.
The committee’s opening procedural meeting was chaired by Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, the liberal chairman of the National Association for Change.
Moussa stressed that the committee’s main job is to draft a new constitution for Egypt rather than simply revise the 2012 Islamist-backed constitution. “We obtained an initial draft constitution from a 10-member technical committee and we will take it as a new constitution rather than an amended version of 2012’s national charter,” he said.
On Monday Sameh Ashour and Diaa Rashwan, chairman of the Press Syndicate, publicly disagreed about the extent of rewriting necessary.
“The constitutional declaration issued by interim President Adli Mansour on 3 July was clear that the main task of the committee is to just amend the 2012 constitution,” said Rashwan. “If we want to change this constitution completely we will have to ask the interim president to amend the 3 July declaration.”
“If we just amended the 2012 constitution it would be against the ideals of the 30 June Revolution,” Ashour countered. “The 2012 constitution must be changed completely because it represents an aggression against the judicial authority, inflames sectarian strife and disrupts national security.”
Moussa remained upbeat: “Egypt is passing through a very dangerous situation but I feel optimistic that the new constitution will reflect the people’s aspirations for real democracy and political pluralism and an effective separation of powers.”
The slogan of Egypt’s evolution remains “bread, freedom and human dignity”, said Moussa. “By bread we mean comprehensive development; by freedom we mean functioning democracy and by human dignity we mean respect for human rights… The document of freedoms issued by Al-Azhar last year and signed by representatives of all political factions and forces must be taken into account when drafting the new constitution,” he added. “This document stresses the principles of freedom of religion and speech and Egypt’s regional role.”
Moussa opened the floor to representatives of most political forces and finessed differences among members over deputy chair nominations, providing a striking contrast to the dictatorial and abrasive style employed by Hossam Al-Ghiriani, the Islamist judge who headed the 100-member constituent assembly which drafted the 2012 constitution.
Bishop Paula, a representative of the Coptic Church, argued that “the selection of a woman, a Christian and an Islamist thinker as Moussa’s three deputies sends a very important message to Egyptians and the outside world that Egypt is moving into the right direction and that there is no place excluding any force from the political scene”.
Professor Gaber Nassar and human rights activist Zul-Faqqar said they have drafted internal regulations aimed at governing the performance of the committee.
Members differed over whether the committee’s meetings should be broadcast live. Salmawy objected while Khairi Abdel-Dayem, chairman of the Doctors Syndicate and a Brotherhood sympathiser, argued “Egyptians should see first-hand how the committee performs.” On Tuesday members agreed that “plenary meetings can be aired live on television but though other meetings will be closed-door.”
Moussa explained that the 50-member committee has two months to finish its task. “As a result,” he said, “intensive meetings will be needed to finish the task.”
Moussa proposed that the committee hold two plenary sessions each week to review the debates conducted by sub-committees which are due to meet on a daily basis.
Ali Awad, head of the 10-member technical committee which produced the initial draft of the new constitution after a month of meetings, says the smaller committee will now act as an advisory group without exercising any voting powers. In finalising the final draft of the constitution the 10-member technical committee, plus representatives from the 50-member committee, will join forces.

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