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Egypt's constitution-drafting body still dogged by controversy

Members of Egypt's constituent assembly remain divided on handful of red-button issues, including Article 2 of national charter and future of consultative Shura Council

Ahram Online, Wednesday 4 Jul 2012
A general view of the two chambers of parliament meeting to elect the 100 members of the constituent assembly 12 June (Photo: Reuters)
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Conflict continues to dog Egypt's troubled constituent assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – as assembly members continue to debate Article 2 of Egypt's constitution and the future of Egypt's Shura Council (the upper, consultative house of parliament).

Article 2 of Egypt's 1971 constitution states that "the principles of Islamic Law" should constitute the "principal source" of legislation in Egypt. The clause as it currently stands has resulted in fierce disagreements among members of Egypt's Constituent Assembly.

Salafist-Islamist forces are demanding the removal of the word "principles" from the article, so as to make Islamic Law the primary source of Egyptian law. They have threatened to withdraw their representatives from the Constituent Assembly if the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) fails to fulfil its promise to change the wording of the article.

Islamists account for more than half of the 100-member constitution-drafting body.

However, Deputy Shura Council Speaker Tarek Sahri told state daily Al-Ahram on Wednesday that there were "no disagreements" over Article 2, insisting that all political forces – including Islamists, liberals, socialists and secularists – agreed on the wording.

"We're working on making Islamic Law – not just the principles – the main source of legislation," Sahri was quoted as saying.

Civil and liberal parties, for their part, insist on keeping the article's wording unchanged to ensure the civil, rather than religious, nature of the Egyptian state.

The same forces are calling for the abrogation of Egypt's consultative Shura Council, which they see as an unnecessary fiscal burden on the state. Islamist political forces, however, disagree, calling for the council's powers to be augmented.

The Shura Council was inaugurated in 1980. One third of its members are appointed directly by the president, while the remaining two thirds are elected by the public.

Another issue on the Constituent Assembly's agenda is the fixed 50 per cent quota of parliamentary seats reserved for farmers and workers, along with the quota for female MPs. "These quotas conflict with the main principles of democracy," said criminal law professor Fawzeya Abdel-Sattar.

Egypt's Constituent Assembly continues to hold meetings despite continued uncertainty as to its future.

Last month, Egypt's High Constitutional Court ruled a parliamentary elections law – which governed last year's legislative polls – as unconstitutional. The following day, the People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament) was dissolved by order of the military.

A court ruling on the constitutionality of the Constituent Assembly has been postponed to 4 September.

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Jon Madsen
06-07-2012 10:30am
Constitutions should limit the freedom of the lawmakers, not the freedom of the people
Constitutions typically describes how the power of the people is emanated to the state institutions through elections. In principle, this power is absolute and could be abused. A majority could oppress and ethnic minority, for instance. The majority could outlaw minority religions. A moral majority could outlaw artistic expressions, clothing and sexual practises of minorities. The majority could outlaw the parties, newspapers and organizations of minorities and deny them the right to demonsrtate in the street. This is why constitutions always contain limits to the lawmakers' authority. Normally, the lawmakers cannot make laws that transgress the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the freedom of organizing, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy etc. All this constitutes limits to the authority of the lawmakers. I t defines areas that are essentially "out of bonds" to them. But it is not necessary to impose positive guidelines to their work, for instance that the
Comment's Title

04-07-2012 07:39pm
Constitutionality of the Shura Council
If the Parliment has already been deemed by the consitutional court to be unconstitutional then by rights the Shura Council should also be disbanded for the same reason as they were appointed by the now defunct Parliment. Let's scrap it all, write the constitution and hold parlimentary elections again.
Comment's Title
Jafar Saeed
05-07-2012 06:35pm
Shura Council
The Shura Council is not appointed by the Parliament, but was elected in a seperate election.
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