Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1167, (3 - 9 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Consensus prevails, mostly

The 50-member committee responsible for writing the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution finished the first stage of its task yesterday. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In a plenary session held yesterday Amr Moussa, chairman of the 50-member committee that is repairing the final draft of Egypt’s new constitution, announced that “the first stage of writing Egypt’s new national charter will be completed next week, before the Eid Al-Adha holiday scheduled for 14 October”.

Moussa added that following the Eid holiday “the 50-member committee will review the draft and hold public debate sessions” after which the final text will be referred to the president and put to a national referendum within two weeks.

“The last three weeks of business have seen serious progress made towards drafting a new constitution for Egypt... Everything suggests that we will be able to finish our task in the 60 work days allotted.”

Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, Cairo University professor and chairman of the sub-committee which is reviewing the language of initial drafts, said: “We have already received 91 articles drafted by three sub-committees... We have finished re-writing half of the 91 articles. By next week they should all be complete.”

“More than 35 public hearing sessions have been held over three weeks to listen to proposed amendments of the existing constitution,” says Sameh Ashour, chairman of the National Dialogue sub-committee. “There is a sweeping majority in favour of issuing a new constitution for Egypt rather than polishing the image of the 2012 constitution drafted under the deposed regime of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Ashour announced interim President Adli Mansour would be contacted and urged to amend the 8 July constitutional declaration so that “Egyptians will vote on a new constitution rather than an amended version of the 2012 constitution.”

“Legal appeals have been filed with the state council and the Supreme Constitutional Court contesting the legality of the 2012 constitution. Depending on their progress the appeals could disrupt the Committee of Fifty’s draft constitution,” says Ashour.

In a press conference this week the 50-member committee’s media spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy said a legal committee had been formed to decide on whether the 8 July declaration should be amended to clarify whether the job of the committee is to write a new constitution for Egypt or amend the 2012 constitution.

The legal committee’s recommendations were scheduled for discussion at yesterday’s plenary session.

“Whether the 8 July decree is amended or not, the fact remains that the 2012 constitution will be changed completely and Egypt will have a new national charter expressing the two basic demands of the revolutions of the 25 January and the 30 June: national independence and the separation of politics and religion,” said Salmawy.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Mansour, representative of the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party, continues to insist that “the 30-June political roadmap entrusts the 50-member committee with amending the 2012 constitution rather than writing a new one”.

Ashour reports that a majority of members of the national dialogue sub-committee believes the constitution must be weeded of articles that mix religion with politics. “There is also a majority in favour of instituting a quota of seats for women in the upcoming parliament,” said Ashour. He added that “there are serious divisions over the electoral system and over whether the quota of 50 per cent of parliamentary seats for representatives of farmers and workers be retained.”

Mohamed Abdel-Salam, chairman of the foundational principles of the state sub-committee, revealed that “while six articles have been re-drafted a second reading of 33 articles under the state chapter in process.”

On Monday the committee devoted a special meeting to listen to amendments proposed by Nour Party representative Mansour.

Mansour opposed using “Western” terminology in writing the new constitution. Phrases such as “civil state” were Western-inspired, he claimed, and will be rejected by the Egyptian people. The Nour Party, he said, rejects the implementation of a religious state but is “in favour of a state which promotes religious values in society”. He said his party is against changing Article 3 to give all non-Muslims — rather than just Christians and Jews — the right to exercise their beliefs.

Informed sources say Al-Azhar supports the Nour’s stand on Article 3. Egyptian churches, meanwhile, have voiced no objections to religious freedoms being extended to all non-Muslim minorities.

While Salmawy refused to disclose how Article 3 had been drafted he said Egyptian churches, Al-Azhar and a majority of committee members had reached an agreement.

Mansour insisted that Article 2 on Islamic Sharia should be amended as a condition for the Nour Party dropping its demand that Article 219 be retained. “The party wants the word ‘principles’ be removed from Article 2 so that it reads Islamic Sharia — or the rules of Islamic Sharia — is the major source of legislation in Egypt,” said Mansour.

Hoda Al-Sadda, chair of the rights and liberties sub-committee, said: “Most of the articles regulating the performance of political parties, NGOs and professional syndicates have already been drafted... We have also proposed setting up a commission to fight discrimination and ensure equal opportunities for all citizens.”

She also revealed “a new article enshrining the right of citizens to have access to information, documents and statistics will be added to the new constitution.”

Article 64, she said, had been amended to ban the use of places of worship in political campaigns.

Amr Al-Shobaki, chairman of the system of governance sub-committee, explained that half of the articles under review by his committee had garnered consensus, while those regulating the performance of the Armed Forces, judicial authorities, military trials and the municipal system will take more time.

Al-Shobaki’s subcommittee surprised many by opting to retain an upper consultative house. The subcommittee’s Deputy Chairman Mohamed Abdel-Aziz a “Senate” will replace the old Shura Council. “Two thirds of its members will be elected and the remaining third appointed. It will include a quota for women and representatives of farmers and workers,” said Abdel-Aziz. “The aim of the Senate is to prevent any majority party from dominating political life.”

He also argued that “the Senate will not cost much.” It is budgeted at LE95 million a year.

Salmawy told reporters a special mini-committee, including military and civilian figures, had been formed to review articles concerning the Armed Forces in Egypt’s post-30 June constitution.

The move came after leading officials of the 50-member committee met with a military delegation representing the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) for four hours on Saturday.

“The mini-committee will be headed by Cairo University professor Abdel-Gelil Mustafa and include two figures representing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF, Major Generals Mohamed Magdeddin Barakat and Maher Gad Al-Haq) along with three senior members of the Committee of Fifty,” said Salmawy.

The objective of the mini-committee is to scrutinise articles regulating the performance of the Armed Forces and find common ground between army officials and the constitution-drafting committee.

Salmawy indicated that Moussa had given the mini-committee a week to reach agreement. He refuted charges that “the objective of the mini-committee is to strip members of the Committee of Fifty of the ability to exert pressure regarding the powers and privileges granted to the army under previous constitutions”.

“Let me emphasise again that the objective is prevent time being wasted in discussing articles related to the army… We want to reach common ground as soon as possible so that we have an initial draft of the new constitution before the Eid Al-Adha holiday,” said Salmawy.

He explained that the four-hour meeting on Saturday involved listening to army officials who offered a review of the regional, international and local challenges facing Egypt.

“The army officials argued that the new constitution should respond accordingly and provide the Armed Forces with all the necessary powers to stand up to such challenges.”

Informed sources say the army is insisting SCAF has the final say in choosing the minister of defence. The military is also pressing for civilians accused of attacking the military or its property to face trial in military courts.

“The army supported Egyptians who turned out in their millions on 30 June to ask for change and as a result the new constitution should reflect the close relationship and joint objectives of the people and the army,” said Salmawy.

The suspended 2012 constitution, reviewed by a 10-member technical committee last August, regulates the performance of the Armed Forces under a separate chapter — Chapter Four — which includes six articles — 170 to 175. 

Articles 170, 171 and 172 define the job of the Armed Forces, the way in which the minister of defence is selected and regulate the promotion and retirement of army personnel. Articles 173, 174, and 175 regulate the performance and mandates of the National Defence Council, military courts and the National Security Council.

Salmawy disclosed that Hussein Abdel-Razek, the representative of the leftist Tagammu Party, had proposed that Article 54 be amended to state that political parties cannot be based on religious foundations or backgrounds. “The current text states that political parties cannot be based on religious foundations — and makes no mention of backgrounds.”

Abdel-Razek’s proposal, says Salmawy, garnered a lot of support. It is aimed at preventing activists from exploiting religion to set up political parties.

Salmawy predicted Egypt’s new constitution will not be as long as Brazil’s or India’s or as short as the American document. “It will be somewhere in the middle, with around 200 articles or a little bit more,” he said.

 

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