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SCAF recommends constitutional guidelines, MPs remain critical

Military council statement recommends Al-Azhar and Democratic Coalition documents as constitutional guidelines; Al-Adl MP El-Naggar says statement fails to solve crisis sparked by resignations from constituent assembly

Dina Samak and Ahram Online, Thursday 29 Mar 2012
SCAF meeting
SCAF chief during a meeting with political parties and presidential candidates at the Defense Ministry in Cairo. (Photo: Reuters)
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Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Force (SCAF) recommended on Thursday in a statement that the constituent assembly should rely on the Azhar and the Democratic Coalition for Egypt documents as guidelines in the constitution drafting process.

The statement – which followed a Thursday meeting between SCAF chief Field Marsal Hussein Tantawi and leaders of political parties represented in Parliament – also refers to the necessary of political parties, public figures and constitutional law experts being represented in the constitutional-drafting assembly.

The new constitution, according to the SCAF statement, should include articles guaranteeing "freedom of thought and religion" as well as criminalising discriminatory acts between Egyptians based on gender, religion and race.

The Azhar Document, published in June of last year, supports "the establishment of a modern, democratic and constitutional state" in Egypt that would observe the separation of powers and guarantee equal rights to all citizens.

Aiming to clearly define the relationship between the state and religion, the Azhar Document states that the principles of Islamic Sharia law are "the basic source of legislation" in Egypt, while adding that Egyptian citizens who are not Muslim should refer to their own religious traditions in deciding matters relating to personal status law.

The Democratic Coalition for Egypt, a coalition of 34 parties including the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Wafd Party, issued a document in August of 2011 containing what they call "non-binding fundamental guiding principles for the constitution" which "respects plurality and guarantees freedom, justice, equality and equal opportunity for all citizens without bias or discrimination."

The document states that " Islam is the religion of the state… the principles of Islamic Sharia are the primary source of legislation" and that non-Muslims, "who belong to the other divinely revealed religions may appeal to their religious strictures on matters pertaining to personal status and their religious affairs."


The meeting’s parties did not all agree to the SCAF statement, however. The FJP, Al-Nour Party, Wafd Party, Al-Wasat and the Freedom Party gave their consent, while the Free Egyptians Party, the Tagammu Party, Al-Adl Party, Al-Karama and the Democratic Peace Party objected.

Independent MPs Mustafa Bakri and Marian Malak approved the statement as well.

According to a leading Al-Adl member, the crisis provoked by resignations from the constituent assembly in protest at the number of Islamists on the body was not resolved during Thursday's meeting.

"The meeting ended and I refused to sign the joint statement between the SCAF and the political parties, because [the statement] legitimises the fault committed by (Parliament's) majority and what is built on a faulty basis leads to faulty conclusions," Mustafa El-Naggar MP wrote on his official Twitter account.

The Muslim Brotherhood's FJP and the Salafist Nour Party were heavily criticised by political parties and civil society organisations, including professional syndicates and trade unions, for failing to create a 100-member list that represented different sectors of Egyptian society.

In a statement on Thursday, MP Sobhi Saleh asserted that the 50/50 ratio of MPs to non-MPs in the constituent assembly is stipulated in the constitutional declaration -- approved in March 2011. Furthermore, the assembly in fact represents all of Egypt's factions, stressing, "The liberals are threatening to withdraw from the assembly unless they are given a higher quota forgetting that the existing quota was chosen by the people and this should be respected."

Constituent assembly members were chosen by both Islamist-dominated houses of Parliament through elections on Saturday. The assembly met for the first time on Wednesday with only 70 of its 100 members in attendance.

SCAF chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his number two Sami Anan, held meetings on Tuesday with representatives of 18 Egyptian political parties. The meeting followed a number of high-profile resignations from the constitution-drafting body in protest at the large proportion of Islamists.

The days following the meeting witnessed further resignations.

On Wednesday, Saad El-Katatni, the People's Assembly speaker and senior Brotherhood leader, was elected head of the constitution-drafting body, a step that lead to further resignations.

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