Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012
Wednesday,22 August, 2018
Issue 1124, 29 November - 5 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Morsi to put constitution to referendum

The final draft of the constitution will be handed over to the president after it was approved by an overwhelming majority of the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly which drew it up.Gamal Essam El-Din reports   

Al-Ahram Weekly

A delegation led by the chairman of the Constituent Assembly will meet President Mohamed Morsi on Saturday to hand him the final draft of Egypt’s constitution. The meeting comes after two days of intensive debates that lasted until the early hours of Friday 30 November. At 6.30am on Friday and by an overwhelming majority, the final draft of the constitution was approved by the Islamist majority members of the assembly which drafted the constitution. A total 85 members attended the final session out of 100.

President Morsi, an Islamist, is expected to put the draft constitution to a national referendum within two weeks.

The speedy approval of the constitution came despite a boycott of a quarter of the assembly’s members and a presidential decree issued just last week which gave the assembly an additional two months to complete its work.

At the beginning of the assembly’s final session at 2.30pm on 29 November, Shura Council chairman Essam Al-Ghiryani decided to drop the membership of 11 members, foremost of who was former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, political activist Ayman Nour, and constitutional law professor Gaber Nasser. They were replaced with 11 members, most of who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and the ultraconservative Salafists.

The final hours of the debate saw developments that will greatly affect political life. A new article added imposes a ban on leading officials of former president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The article was added in spite of the fact that the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled in June that disenfranchisement laws are unconstitutional “because nobody can be stripped of exercising his political rights without a judicial order.” Muslim Brotherhood members who form the majority of the assembly rallied behind the amendment although it was opposed by Al-Ghiryani himself.

The assembly challenged the SCC by passing two amendments that were ruled unconstitutional this year.

The constitution’s final draft also decided that the next parliamentary elections are to be held under a mixed individual and party-list electoral system. Two-thirds of seats will be elected under party lists and one-third under the individual system. Again in June, it was ruled unconstitutional by the SCC on the grounds that it was discriminatory against independent candidates.

In another direction, Al-Ghiryani directed a blow to journalists when he refused an amendment aimed at preventing journalists from facing jail sentences for publication offences. Al-Ghiryani refused to discuss the article at the beginning of debates on Thursday afternoon, but promised Press Syndicate chairman Mamdouh Al-Wali to discuss it later. He postponed the article until the very end, at 6am Friday morning.

When it came to the discussion, Al-Ghiryani told Al-Wali: "I did not give any promises to you. The final word should be left to members." The amendment was rejected by 80 out of 85 members. They also rejected amending Article 215, which states that a national media authority be set up to supervise print, satellite television and digital electronic media.  

While the assembly’s Islamist majority voted in favour of imposing jail sentences on journalists in publication offences, they welcomed an amendment reserving 50 per cent of the seats in parliament to representatives of workers and farmers. The amendment, introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Minister of Manpower Khaled Al-Azhar, states that this quota would be applied for just one parliamentary session (five years), after which it would be phased out completely.

The amendments also set a new definition for workers and farmers. According to the draft constitution, a worker is one employed by public or private institutions or individuals, while a farmer is one who has practiced agricultural activities for at least 10 years.

The Islamists also rallied behind Article 219, devoted to the interpretation of the principles of Islamic Law. This new article, pressed for hard by Salafists, was the major factor leading secularists and representatives of the church to withdraw from the assembly. They warned that this article opened the door to radical interpretations of Islam and threatened to turn Egypt into an extremist nation. The article states that the principles of Islamic law include its most fundamentalist interpretations.
Under the final draft constitution the president could still name the prime minister but should the president’s nominee fail to win a vote of confidence in parliament it will be up to the upper house of parliament to name an alternative.
Several articles regulating presidential elections were also approved.
Articles 138 and 139 state that “presidential elections will be held by secret ballot… if a candidate dies before a second round run-off whoever received the most votes in the first round will be named president.”
Article 140 stipulates that the president-elect must be sworn into office before the two houses of parliament, though should either one of the two houses be dissolved at the time of swearing in it will be sufficient for the oath to be taken before the house that remains sitting.
Article 227 limits presidential terms to four years, and any incumbent to two terms.
The assembly also approved two articles regulating the Supreme Constitutional Court .The first article obliges the SCC to rule on the constitutionality of laws regulating presidential, parliamentary and local elections and the exercise of political rights before, rather than after, they go into effect.
Gamal Gibril, chairman of the Constituent Assembly’s System of Governance sub-Committee, argued that the change was necessary because “we can never accept a democratically-elected parliament being dissolved on the grounds that the election law under which it was elected was flawed.”
“The court has to tell us whether the law is constitutional before polls are held and a parliament elected.”
The SCC, Gibril added, will be required to provide a verdict on the laws in question within 35 days of their being approved by parliament and before elections are held.

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