Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1165, (19 - 25 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Democratic benchmarks

The 50-member committee mandated to draft Egypt’s constitution is determined to usher in a new, liberal era, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The Committee of Fifty responsible for writing the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution held a plenary meeting yesterday to review its first week on the job.
Initial reports suggest the 2012 constitution drafted under Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-led regime by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly will be radically changed and that the new constitution will be liberal, stress social justice and ensure the effective separation of powers.
“The main lesson of the 30 June Revolution which removed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from power,” said Amr Moussa, chairman of the committee and a former presidential candidate, “is that politics and religion do not mix.”
“If you want to engage in politics then you can get a licence for a political party but if you want to play religion then you can get a licence to preach and then go to the mosque.”
Moussa confirmed that the new constitution will place a ban on the formation of religious parties. “Religiously motivated political parties only harm society by fanning sectarian strife and tarring their political opponents as infidels and non-believers.”
Moussa opened fire on the regime of Mohamed Morsi, taking him to task for sowing the seeds of political and sectarian strife and turning Sinai into fertile recruiting ground for militant jihadists.
“Egypt’s population will reach 100 million in a few years. They cannot be left mired in a world lacking liberal and democratic freedoms. Egypt can get over its political crisis and become a flourishing country if we opt to join the modern world and espouse the universal principles of democracy,” Moussa told a group of lawyers on Tuesday.
Committee spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy said the constitutional decree issued by interim President Adli Mansour leaves the door open for the 50-member committee to revise and amend all articles of the constitution drafted by Islamists in 2012. As a result, said Salmawy, Egypt will have a new and modern constitution compatible with international conventions on freedoms and rights. He added that “even the preamble will be changed to state that the new constitution is inspired by the liberal ideals of the 25 January and 30 June revolutions.”
Salmawy added that Salah Fadl, professor of law at Ain Shams University, and Mahmoud Al-Rabie, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, had been selected to write the constitution’s preamble. He also indicated that followers of different religions rather than just adherents of Islam, Christianity and Judaism will be given the right to freely exercise their rites.
“The more the constitution’s articles are comprehensive, liberal and inclusive of all religions and sects the more it will be in line with international human rights and democracy benchmarks,” said Salmawy. He added that “the constitution-drafting committee will do its best to reach a consensus formula which could maintain Islam as the official religion of the state but at the same time ensure freedom for followers of all world religions.”
Salmawy’s comments followed the decision of Bassam Al-Zarka, the Salafist Nour Party’s sole representative on the committee, to withdraw from a sub-committee meeting on Monday. Al-Zarka had proposed that Article 2 of the constitution be amended to state that “Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation in Egypt” rather than the current formulation which reads “the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation in Egypt”. Al-Zarka argued that the change would reflect a strong belief in Islamic Sharia and the Islamic identity of Egypt and open the door for the elimination of controversial Article 219 which introduced an interpretation of the Islamic Sharia principles that many liberals and moderates say is dangerously restrictive.
When his proposal was rejected Al-Zarka left the sub-committee, saying that “we are in a battle between Islam and secularism”, insisting he could not “continue attending a committee bent on ridding the constitution of all Islamic identity articles”.
Nour Party Chairman Younis Makhioun clarified the situation. “Al-Zarka’s withdrawal from the sub-committee does not mean that he will boycott all the meetings of the 50-member committee,” said Makhioun.
Civilian political parties have accused the Nour Party of doing its best to disrupt the committee’s work.
“Al-Zarka’s withdrawal was an attempt to tarnish the image of non-Islamist members of the committee and portray them as enemies of Islam,” said Hussein Abdel-Razek, a senior member of the Tagammu Party. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the Nour Party played an enormous role in Islamising Egypt’s 2012 constitution and will not easily give up”.
Wafd Party head Al-Sayed Al-Badawi argued that “the highly-esteemed Sunni institution of Al-Azhar must be left to give the final say on whether Islamic identity articles be kept in place or not.”
Hoda Al-Sadda, a professor of literature and chairman of the Liberties and Rights sub-committee, has said members have reached initial agreement on significant changes to 12 of the 39 articles under review. “We have decided to include articles to incriminate all forms of torture and discrimination,” she told reporters. According to Al-Sadda, there is also a consensus that civilians should not appear before military tribunals.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, chairman of the Basic Components Committee and legal advisor to the sheikh of Al-Azhar, said Al-Zarka’s objections had not dissuaded the committee from amending the first article of the constitution to read that Egypt is “a civilian independent state” rather than “a sovereign independent state”. Abdel-Salam insists the change is a progressive step affirming that Egypt is a civilian rather than religious state.
Abdel-Salam further revealed the sub-committee had voted in favour keeping Article 3 in place. It states that “the principles of Egyptian Christians’ and Jews’ religious laws will be the main source in regulating personal status, matters pertaining to their religion and the selection of their spiritual leaders”.
Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Al-Shobaki, chairman of the governance system subcommittee, said members were reviewing 37 articles. He confirmed that while “a mixed presidential-parliamentary system will be maintained” the sub-committee would eliminate articles consolidating presidential power that were left over from the 1971 constitution and which Islamists had retained “because the Muslim Brotherhood was preparing itself to stay in power for many years and had no interest in undermining the dictatorial position of the president”.
Salmawy stressed that “a major challenge facing the 50-member committee is to devise a system in which the president is effectively accountable and shares powers with parliament.”
“The 50-member committee is determined to finish the second stage of Egypt’s post-30 June political roadmap within 60 days,” Salmawy told the Weekly. “We began on 8 September and have 60 work days — with the week-long holiday of Eid Al-Adha excluded — to finish our job. We hope to send the outside world the message that Egypt is moving steadily towards the liberal democracy prescribed by the political roadmap.”
Efforts aimed at reaching consensus among all factions on the 30 June political road gathered momentum this week. After a five-hour meeting with interim President Mansour on 15 September political factions, including the Nour Party, agreed that “the political roadmap should be completed on time, with the new constitution to be put to a national referendum by December.” Mansour issued a decree this week forming a seven-member judicial electoral commission to supervise the anticipated referendum and parliamentary polls.
The meeting also agreed that there can be no “reconciliation with those who resorted to violence or have blood on their hands”. This, says Democratic Peace Party Chairman Ahmed Al-Fadali, means “any attempt to reintegrate the Muslim Brotherhood into political life is almost certainly doomed.”  
In the continuing crackdown on the Brotherhood security forces arrested the group’s media spokesman Gehad Al-Haddad on Tuesday.  (see Special p.11)

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