The 50-member committee tasked with writing the final draft of Egypt's new constitution will begin its final weeks of negotiation on Tuesday, 22 October.
Mohamed Salmawy, the committee's media spokesperson, told parliamentary correspondents on Monday that "the committee completed the first half of its task in 30 work days."
According to Salmawy, the "subcommittees successfully finalised an initial draft of the constitution so that it could be discussed by the 50-member committee as a whole during the second half of its work."
During the next 30 days of committee work, to begin tomorrow, "the main objective will be to prepare the constitution's final draft for a vote. This means settling differences among members over unresolved issues and seeking as wide a consensus as possible," Salmawy explained.
The second phase will end on 3 December, and then the final draft will be referred to Interim President Adly Mansour and put to a national referendum.
During tomorrow's closed-door session, the 50-member committee will review the six chapters of the new constitution drafted by the subcommittees. It will then "open discussion among members over unresolved issues in order to seek consensus," Salmawy said.
According to Salmawy, the session will be closed in order to "prevent the media from publishing conflicting reports that might cause confusion for citizens." Instead, a press conference will be held after each session to deliver formal statements regarding the debates.
The full-committee sessions will begin at 11 am every workday, and there will be three sessions per day in order to reach the 3 December deadline.
A subcommittee headed by Cairo University professor Abdel-Gelil Mostafa has finalised a review of the new constitution's 190 articles. Salmawy expects the final draft will include as many as 250 articles.
The 50-member committee began its work on 8 September. As the committee completed the first half of its task within 30 days, it will not require an extension on the mandated 60-day period to finalise a draft because "the next half [of the task] will be much easier," Salmawy argued.
On Monday, a meeting was held between leading representatives to discuss the so-called "identity articles," which refer to articles one to three of the new constitution concerning the national religion and the basis of Egyptian law.
The meeting – which included committee chairman Amr Moussa, Grand Mufti Shawki Abdel-Alim, Coptic bishop Anpa Paula, committee deputy chair Mona Zulficar, system of governance subcommittee chairman Mohamed Abdel-Sallam, and media spokesman Salmawy – sought to reach consensus between Al-Azhar and the Church regarding the controversial articles.
According to Salmawy, "the Coptic Church and Al-Azhar reached an agreement on articles one, two, and three, and the complete initial draft of the new constitution will be made public next week."
Committee member Mohamed Ghoneim told Ahram Online that when the "identity articles" came for a vote in front of the largely liberal Subcommittee of the State and Foundational Principles, the majority of members voted in favour of amending three of the first four articles in the constitution.
According to Ghoneim, members insisted that the word "civilian" be added to the first article to clearly read that "Egypt is a sovereign civilian state."
"The word civilian stresses that Egypt is not a religious state, but rather a state advocating the principles of citizenship without discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, or race," Ghoneim argued.
Ghoneim said that subcommittee members voted in favor of keeping article two without alternation, so that it still reads "Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic sharia are the main source of legislation."
Members voted to change article three so that all "non-Muslim Egyptians," rather than the formerly-stated "Egyptian Christians and Jews," are "allowed to exercise their religious rites," Ghoneim reported.
The subcommittee drafted article four to strip Al-Azhar's Council of Grand Clerics of any role in defining Islamic sharia issues, according to Ghoneim.
As for the controversial article 219, which elaborates on the sources of Islamic sharia, Salmawy reports that "the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party does not insist on retaining the article as drafted by the 2012 constitution; however it wishes to incorporate the article's content in some form in the new constitution."
"I think there can be a new article that achieves this purpose," Salmawy added.
Salmawy indicated that the most contentious articles within the committee – those related to military courts, regulating the performance of judicial authorities, and the selection of a defence minister – are still under debate.
However, Salmawy believes "the gap in differences over these issues is closing all the time, and it will not be difficult to reach a consensus soon."
The 2012 constitution was suspended pending amendments as part of a roadmap for Egypt’s future, which saw former president Mohamed Morsi ousted on 3 July following mass protests across the nation against him.
Egypt's non-Islamist political forces have repeatedly argued the suspended constitution was not representative of all layers of society and limited many freedoms, blaming the majority Islamist members of the outgoing constituent assembly for ignoring their recommendations.