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Egypt's new constitution to guarantee absolute religious freedom: Salmawy
Spokesperson of 50-member constitutional committee says majority in favour of absolute religious freedom in constitution, denies article 219 back on table for discussion
Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 28 Oct 2013
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Salmawi
Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy (Photo: Reuters)

A majority of the committee tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution has voted to revise article 47, which guarantees the free exercise of religion for all citizens, committee media spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy said on Monday.

Article 47, which was first drafted by a ten-member technical committee in August, now reads "Freedom of belief is guaranteed. The state guarantees freedom of religious practice, and facilitates the building of places of worship for the Abrahamic traditions, as regulated by law."

According to Salmawy, the 50-member committee proposed on Sunday evening to amend the article's text to state "the state guarantees absolute freedom of religious practice."

In addition, Salmawy added, changes may be made to clarify that "freedom of religious practice is guaranteed in an absolute way, even for those who do not follow the three Abrahamic religions, and that the state facilitates the construction of places of worship for all."

Salmawy noted that most committee members agree that Islam grants absolute freedom for all religions, citing the Prophet Mohamed who said "We are not entitled to open the hearts of others to know what their beliefs are." As such, the committee argues that the new constitution must give all citizens the right to practice religion in an absolute sense.

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party and a committee member, told parliamentary correspondents on Sunday evening that "the new constitution will include a transitional article aimed at lifting all barriers to building churches in Egypt."

"This addition," added Abul-Ghar, "is in line with article 47's revision, which guarantees absolute rights for all citizens to build their places of worship."

Abul-Ghar asserted that "under a liberal constitution, all Egyptians, particularly Christians, must be allowed to build their own places of worship freely," lamenting the spate of church torchings across Egypt since the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Salmawy vehemently denied that the constitutional committee has opened discussion on article 219, which was drafted in 2012 under an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly with the intention to limit the definition of Islamic Sharia.

According to Salmawy, the ten-member technical committee had already removed article 219 before submitting the draft constitution to the 50-member committee for amendment. As such, Salmawy argued, article 219 is no longer on the table, reminding correspondents that "around 40 political figures withdrew from the 2012 constituent assembly [which drafted the now-suspended 2012 constitution under amendment] after Islamists imposed article 219."

Abul-Ghar told correspondents that article 219 goes against religious freedom and aims to impose a strict code of Islam on the Egyptian society.

Committee chairman Amr Moussa told an Algerian newspaper on Sunday that "the final decision on article 219 will be left to a vote on the constitution at the end of November."

Representative from the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party Bassam El-Zarqa has argued that article 219 is necessary to restrict Shia Muslims in Egypt and ensure that Egypt remains a Sunni Muslim country.

Salmawy confirmed the Nour Party objections to removing article 219, but stated "this is merely the opinion of one member, rather than that of the majority."

Salmawy explained that all upcoming committee meetings will be "closed door," arguing that closed meetings do not mean the meetings' contents are secret.

"Closed door meetings mean that the public is aware of issues to be discussed beforehand, and then gets firsthand information about the debate in daily press conferences," Salmawy said.

A legal subcommittee has been formed to decide whether or not reserve committee members are allowed to attend upcoming committee discussions. Salmawy quoted committee secretary-general Gaber Nasser, who stresses that according to the July presidential decree that established the committee, reserve members do not have voting powers.

A meeting was also held between representatives of the Nour Party, Egypt's Sunni authority Al-Azhar, and Abdel-Gelil Mostafa, chairman of a subcommittee responsible for the constitution's language, in order to reach consensus over what are called the "Islamic identity articles."

"The meeting's objective was to reach an agreement on articles 1, 2, 3, and 4 [the 'Islamic identity articles'] before they are put to a vote," said Salmawy, indicating that "if disagreement persists, we will pass them according to the committee's bylaws requiring a 75 percent majority."

The ten articles endorsed by the committee on Sunday will be referred to the ten-member technical committee for constitutional and legal review. However, the 50-member committee has "final say," Salmawy clarified.

Those ten articles include eight articles under the constitution's chapter three, which regulates "freedoms, rights and public duties."

Salmawy said that the first article of chapter three, article 37, now states "Dignity is a guaranteed right for every human being, and the state is committed to respect and protect it."

Article 38 now reads "All citizens are equal before the law in terms of rights and public duties, and without discrimination in areas of religion, sect, sex, gender, race, language, handicap, geographical location, social status or political affiliation."

This, Salmawy emphasised, differs entirely from the 2012 constitution, namely because it prevents discrimination against citizens on political grounds.

Salmawy added that article 38 will establish an "independent" anti-discrimination commission, including representatives from civil society," to fight all forms of discrimination and hatred in Egypt."

"This is also different from the 2012 constitution, which discriminated against citizens on sectarian grounds."

Article 40 states that "personal freedoms are guaranteed." It also says that "citizens cannot be arrested, inspected, or sent to jail without prior judicial orders and that they cannot be interrogated without lawyers present." Defendants illegally placed into custody are entitled to demand compensation, Salmawy added.

In addition, article 40 stipulates that defendants in custody cannot be tortured in any way and cannot be questioned under torture or threats.

Article 41 states that prisons and detention centres will be subject to judicial supervision. Articles 42 and 43 prevent all forms of spying on the private lives of citizens and house searches without prior judicial orders.

Article 44 ensures that the state is responsible for guaranteeing a secure life for its citizens.

Article 45 concerns the "sanctity" of the human body. This article, said Salmawy, prevents trade in human body parts and forbids the cutting of one's hands on religious grounds.

A technical committee including surgeons Magdi Yacoub and Mohamed Ghoneim was formed to review article 45.

Article 46 guarantees citizens the right to move and immigrate freely. It also forbids any kind of "forced evacuation of citizens," an addition of particular significance to groups such as Egypt's Nubians and Coptic Christians. 





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Sam Rivers
28-11-2013 05:43pm
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Egypt's Constitution
Egypt will be served better with complete separation of state and religion.It will be best to adopt an "Establishment Clause," similar to the US Constitution. The state must guarantee freedom of religion and freedom from religion.Any other approach will only feed sectarian rift and stifle economic growth.Egypt's meager resources must be directed towards education, infrastructure and productive economic growth. The armed forces must be put under civilian control and there must be term limits and separation of the different branches of government with a system of checks and balances.
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6



Democracia
02-11-2013 01:47pm
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Freedom of atheism...
If there is absolute freedom of religion then there must be also absolute freedom of NO religion, that means for atheism... Nobody can be forced to believe in a religion, no matter which one it is, or?
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5



goris
30-10-2013 06:08am
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egyipt the morning star
God bless egyipt and protect it from the destruction by the evil intntions. May the Lord's peace shine upon you foever and ever.
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4



osta.rido
29-10-2013 10:47pm
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only three abrahamic religions?
Just a single question: What about the Baha'i ? Make it a "lucky clover and say: It's four! And (joking): Give the R4BIA-sign a valuable new meaning! But the General decision is really promising! It will at the end change the mindset also of those who still ere against all other beliefs than the own one!
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3



Guest
29-10-2013 08:54am
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separation between state and religion
“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between religion and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” Thomas Jefferson
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Acolate of Kenan Malik
29-10-2013 03:12pm
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the racism of the postcolonialist relativist
to Pharaoh: How than about Al Razi? Who said, f.e. "On what ground do you deem it necessary that God should single out certain individuals, that he should set them up above other people, that he should appoint them to be the people's guides, and make people dependent upon them?" or "If the people of this religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed" - Dismissing Jefferson's opinion on the ground of his skincolour is racist. And to tell Arabs who hold similar secular viewpoints that they are basically race-traitors is racist as well as it denies their humanity.
Sam Enslow
29-10-2013 01:54pm
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Not necessarily a "White" value
"Christian, Jew, Mulsim, shaman, Zoroasterian, stone, ground, mountian, river, each has a secret way with the mystery and is not to be judged." - Rumi
Pharaoh
29-10-2013 12:10pm
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Good
As respectable as that view may be, it is not a universal statement and is a value held by white men. Let's not go back to a colonial mentality and hold white viewpoints and values as universal. Forcing liberalism on a people who don't prioritize in their culture and lives is as oppressive as forcing religion.
Pharaoh
29-10-2013 12:06pm
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Good
As respectable as this is. This has no place in Egypt. American values are
Hamdan
29-10-2013 11:06am
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fascist state
In Egypt it is the state that insists on controlling religion, not the other way arround.
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Pharaoh
29-10-2013 12:04am
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New Egypt, owned by Egyptians for all citizens.
Egypt needs a purely secular structured democratic government but the government is not the nation. Differentiate between the country and the nation. It needs to strengthen the military role in protecting the national unity and the egyptian race which defines Egypt as a nation. The military gives us our beloved Pharaoh back. Islamic identity needs to be given more symbolic power. This means the judicial authorities need to be bounded by the islamic shariah interpreted by specialized azhar scholars. Al azhar needs to create a corporate body with organizational by-laws and include the muslim constituents. This is how it is done in America, when it comes to religious bodies with power. This will then implement shariah by-laws on muslims only but is bounded by the judicial authority and the rule of the laws of the land. This means that certain norms can be implemented by the organization however no ruling or verdict can be enforced except by the rule of law. All the laws need to go through judicial review to ensure it is in accord with the egyptian nation. It is time to rationally design a secular country with all the freedoms but an egyptian nation with powerful Islamic symbolic values. I suggest we completely forgo the arab identity, since we are linguistically arabic. Think more of an arabophone economic union similar to the European union.
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Jh
29-10-2013 06:33pm
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Not really
Egyptians do not want shariah, get over it.
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Gerald Annab
28-10-2013 10:03pm
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minority unrepresentative constitution
but for Muslims, there is no religious freedom. Christians can build churches anywhere, but Muslims can't. This constitution represents a small minority of nti-Islam Coptic activists. Besides, Christians have to form parties based on their religion, but Muslims have no right to form political parties based on Islam.
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KT
29-10-2013 06:36pm
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What?
That is one upside down comment. I don't know if it's your english or your real opinion stated there. Copts are not anti anyone if you have a look around you will see how much love Copts treat Muslims with and yet because you are too weak for that love you must make comments like this.
Democracia
28-10-2013 11:24pm
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Hm....
Hm, I didn't know until now that Muslims even want to built churches... But if they want, now they can do so, hahaha...
Francesca
28-10-2013 11:14pm
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Really?
Muslim can't build new mosquee because the new cosntitution will let all individual to practice their own religion?

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