Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Charting new waters

The 50-member committee charged with revising the constitution says it has almost finished its task, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

In a plenary meeting held yesterday Amr Moussa, liberal-minded chairman of the Committee of Fifty mandated to produce a final constitutional draft, announced that “Egypt is about to have a constitution that differs completely, in form and in content, from the 2012 Islamist one.”
Moussa launched a scathing attack on the 2012 constitution which he said “was drafted in appalling language and reflected religious bigotry”.
In a meeting with university professors on Tuesday Moussa argued that the 2012 constitution — written by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly under the Muslim Brotherhood regime — sought to institute Islamic rule and turn Egypt into a sectarian-based state. “This constitution included several articles that condoned religious tyranny, on top of which was the attempt to establish a police force for the imposition of virtue and the prevention of vice,” said Moussa.
He added, however, that “my attack on the 2012 constitution does not mean that it will be replaced by a secular national charter.”
“We are just keen that the new constitution does not mix politics with religion.”
Committee of Fifty  spokesman Mohamed Salmawy told reporters on Monday that the first stage of drafting a new national charter was almost complete.
“The sub-committees in charge of revising the chapters of the new constitution have almost finished. Amended articles will now be sent to a special committee entrusted with reviewing the language of the articles,” said Salmawy.  
“We are on schedule to have an initial draft version before the Eid Al-Adha holiday. It will include a preamble clearly stating that Egypt’s new constitution seeks to realise two main goals of the 30 June Revolution: strengthening national independence and rejecting religious rule.”
“Under the new constitution Egyptians will be braced for a new crossing that will usher in a new age.”
According to Salmawy, “after the Al-Adha holiday members of the specialised constitution-writing committee and sub-committees in charge of drafting individual chapters will hold closed meetings in order to agree a final version which will then be discussed by the 50-member committee in plenary sessions.”
Moussa stressed that “Egypt’s new constitution will be immune to any legal or constitutional appeal.” He revealed that a legal committee concluded last week that “there is no need to amend the constitutional declaration, issued on 8 July by interim President Adli Mansour, to clearly state that the job of the 50-member committee is to write a new constitution rather than  amend the 2012 one.”
On Tuesday Cairo’s Administrative Court postponed rulings on nine appeals contesting the legal status of the Committee of Fifty. The petitioners argue that the committee violates Article 29 of the 8 July declaration which stipulates that it must include representatives from all sectors of society. The court is expected to deliver rulings on 29 October, before the committee completes its two month job.
Moussa surprised the media on Tuesday by announcing that he is in favour of maintaining a bicameral system, with the upper house of the Shura Council transformed into a “Senate”. “There is an urgent need for a Senate that includes legal and other experts who can revise legislation and ensure it is properly drafted,” said Moussa.
Moussa expects that Egypt will have two chambers: a House of Representatives and the Senate. “The number of deputies in the House could reach 500, while members of the Senate will be less than half this,” said Moussa. “All deputies of the House will be elected while a third of Senate members will be appointed. Candidates for the House will be required to be 25 years or above and hold at least a high school certificate. Those standing in the Senate election will 40 years or more and hold a university degree.”
Moussa said calls were growing that “the promulgation of the new constitution be followed by presidential rather than parliamentary polls though the Committee of Fifty is not authorised to discuss this matter which should be left to political forces to decide.”
In a press interview with Saudi-based Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday, interim President Adli Mansour insisted that the state is committed to holding parliamentary polls first, “followed by presidential elections within two or three months”.
Abdel-Gelil Mustafa, chairman of the committee entrusted with reviewing the language of the initial drafts of articles, said “we have almost finalised re-writing two thirds of the articles and should complete the remaining third before the Eid holiday.”
“The initial drafts confirm that Egypt is about to have a constitution that reflects the country’s long hopes for democracy and freedom.”
Defending the creation of a Senate, chairman of the System of Governance Sub-committee Amr Al-Shobaki said the upper house “will be elected under a different electoral law and include competent and highly experienced figures who usually abstain from contesting elections”.
“The creation of the Senate,” he argued, “is essential to ensure no single party dominates parliamentary and political life. One third of the members will be appointed and the Senate will enjoy legislative and supervisory powers, providing a counter balance to the House of Representatives.”
Al-Shobaki said he expected quotas to be reserved in the Senate for women, Copts and representatives of farmers and workers.
Half of the articles being reviewed by his sub-committee, said Al-Shobaki, had garnered consensus, including those regulating the activities of the president, the police and wider systems of governance. He revealed that members had proposed that “as long as a mixed presidential-parliamentary system is adopted parliament should not be granted the right to withdraw confidence in the president”.
“This prerogative will be granted to the people in a national referendum,” said Al-Shobaki.” Similarly, the president will not be granted the right to dissolve parliament which will also be left to a national referendum.”
He added that articles regulating the performance of the Armed Forces, judicial authorities, military trials and the municipal system are still under review.
The greatest controversy now centres on articles 195 and 198 which deal with the selection of the minister of defence and the question of whether civilians can ever be referred to military trial. Army representatives insist that the military must name the minister of defence, though one informed source says military officials have now agreed that “the army can maintain the right to name the minister of defence for 12 years, after which it will be reviewed”. Sources also indicate that members of the committee have agreed that Article 198 which allows civilians accused of attacking military personnel, buildings and equipment to be referred to military courts can be retained.
Hoda Al-Sadda, chairwoman of the Rights and Liberties Sub-committee, indicated that “most of the articles regulating the performance of political parties, NGOs and professional syndicates have been drafted and that new articles setting up a commission to fight discrimination and another to protect intellectual property, had been added.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, chairman of the Foundational Principles of the State Sub-committee says the 36 articles it is reviewing are almost complete. These include the so-called Islamic identity articles dealing with Islamic Sharia and the religious freedoms to be accorded to non-Muslims.

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