Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Halfway house

The drafting of a new constitution enters its second phase, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Mohamed Salmawy, media spokesman of the 50-member committee entrusted with rewriting the constitution, told parliamentary correspondents on Monday that half the committee’s task was complete.
“Subcommittees have finalised an initial draft of the constitution that can be discussed in plenary meetings. The main task now is to prepare a final draft that can be put to a vote in order to settle differences over any unresolved issues with as wide a consensus as possible.”
Salmawy added that a final draft should be ready to refer to interim President Adli Mansour by 3 December.
The plenary sessions — starting at 11am, there are three scheduled each day — will be held behind closed doors “in order to avoid conflicting reports being published in the media”.
The subcommittee mandated to review the text of articles — headed by Cairo university professor Abdel-Gelil Mustafa — has finished work on 190 out of a projected 250 articles, said Salmawy. He also revealed that a meeting on Monday between committee head Amr Moussa, Grand Mufti Shawki Abdel-Alim, Coptic Church representative Bishop Paula, committee Deputy Chair Mona Zul-Faqqar and Chairman of the System of Governance Subcommittee Mohamed Abdel-Salam to discuss the so-called identity articles had ended in agreement. “The Coptic Church and Al-Azhar have reached a consensus on articles 1, 2 and 3 and the initial draft of the new constitution will be made public next week,” he said.
Article 219 which had attempted to fix interpretations of Sharia has been a longstanding bugbear but according to Salmawy “the Salafist Nour Party is no longer insisting the article be kept as drafted in the 2012 constitution.”
“It just wants that the objective of this article be included in the new constitution in some form… there could be a new article achieving this purpose.”
The most controversial articles — regulating the performance of the judicial authorities, military courts and the naming of the defence minister — are still under discussion which is why, said Salmawy, “one or two subcommittees have asked for two or three additional meetings in the next few days.” He predicted “a consensus very soon”.
Committee of Fifty Chairman Amr Moussa told members of the judiciary on Sunday “we do not have time to waste and want a final draft of Egypt’s new constitution by the end of November or early December.”
The closing weeks of the constitution-drafting process are likely to be an uphill struggle. Whether civilians, under certain conditions, can face trial before military courts and the right of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to name the minister of defence remain major sticking points. A majority of committee members oppose the army’s demands that civilians accused of attacking military property be tried before military courts, though they seem to have reconciled themselves to SCAF retaining the right to name the minister of defence for at least the next two presidential terms.
The historic allocation of 50 per cent of seats in parliament to representatives of farmers and workers is also proving contentious. Refaat Baher, the committee’s farmers’ representative, says “workers and farmers insist on maintaining the quota until unions strong enough to voice their rights and lobby for their demands emerge.” Baher hinted a possible compromise could be to retain the quota for a single parliamentary term after which it can be reviewed.
“Since unresolved issues still plague debates we could suggest two or three alternative drafts for the most controversial articles,” says Amr Al-Shobaki, chairman of the System of Governance subcommittee.
The proposed powerful second house, the Senate, has yet to win public support. “We need to make it clear the Senate will have a completely different legislative and supervisory mandate than the Shura and then see if the negative public reactions change,” said Al-Shobaki.
The electoral system to be used in parliamentary elections is also proving a divisive issue.
“Many political activists favour an individual candidacy system but others believe a party-list system would better secure parliamentary representation for all sectors of society,” said Al-Shobaki. One possible compromise is a temporary mix of both systems that could then be reviewed after the first five-year legislative term.
Disagreements have also emerged over striking a balance between parliamentary and presidential prerogatives. “We do not want a pharaoh, but then nor do we want a shadow president crippled by a forceful parliament,” says Al-Shobaki.
The so-called identity articles — dealing with Islamic Sharia and the role of Al-Azhar — have been longstanding subjects of fierce debate between Islamists and secularists.
Committee member Mohamed Ghoneim told Al-Ahram Weekly that “when the matter came to voting, a majority of members of the subcommittee of the State and Foundational Principles were in favour of amending three of the first four articles of the constitution.”
They insisted that the word civilian be added to the first article so that it reads “Egypt is a sovereign civilian state,” said Ghoneim.
“The word civilian is important. It stresses that Egypt is not a religious state but one that advocates principles of citizenship without discrimination upon the basis of religion, sex or colour.”
Ghoneim added that members had voted in favour of keeping Article 2 in place. It will continue to read: “Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.”
The consensus over Article 3 is to amend it so that non-Muslim Egyptians — rather than Egyptian Christians and Jews — are allowed to exercise their religious rites.
Article 4, said Ghoneim, had been redrafted to exclude Al-Azhar’s Council of Grand Clerics from having any say on determining questions relating to Islamic Sharia.
Controversy over articles regulating the performance of the judiciary has been spearheaded by judges from the State Council who are angry with proposals some of their authority — including supervising disciplinary courts — be given to other judicial authorities.

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