Politician Amr Hamzawy has been under fire recently because of a controversial column the prominent liberal figure wrote for Egyptian daily Al-Watan, with critics accusing him of demanding foreign interference in the drafting of Egypt's new constitution. Hamzawy has said that his opinion piece was greatly misinterpreted, due to what he considers to be lack of communication..
"The constitution is not an internal affair and Egypt does not exist in an empty space; there is an international environment and treaties Egypt has respected for decades. For this reason, we communicate with the international community," he said while kicking off his hour-long interview with Ahram Online, which was broadcast live on the internet late on Thursday.
Hamzawy, a professor at the Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, is one of the secularist figures in the Constituent Assembly who has voiced reservations about constitutional amendments suggested by Islamist members of the body – tasked with forming the permanent post-Mubarak national charter.
While Islamist Constituent Assembly members – from the Salafist Nour Party and the Muslim Brotherhood – are seeking a more comprehensive implementation of sharia (Islamic law), secularists, who comprise a minority within the assembly, are pushing in the opposite direction, arguing that the Islamists' approach will infringe on freedoms.
As a result, many of the assembly's secular members have opted to withdraw from the parliament-elected body since its launch in June. The last withdrawal was that of human rights activist Manal El-Tibi, who cited the "ideological intimidation" practiced by Islamists as a reason for her action.
Although he, for similar reasons, withdrew from Egypt's first post-uprising Constituent Assembly – which was dissolved following a court ruling in April 2012 that found it unconstitutional – Hamzawy has only boycotted the current body. However, he has strongly criticised the assembly's Islamists through his show on CBC television channel, and through his writing.
In his recent controversial op-ed, the former parliamentarian discussed the same concerns about the Islamists, and went on to call on parties and NGOs to communicate with the international community in order to put pressure on Islamists to prevent them from "manipulating the rights, freedom and identity of the state."
After many on social media expressed anger at what they perceived to be a call by Hamzawy for the intervention of overseas organisations in the constitution-drafting process, he sought to clear the air. "Clarifying our situation does not mean requesting foreign interference in our affairs," he said. “And the organisations I mentioned in my article do not have the authority to do so."
Among the bodies Hamzawy said Egypt's secular camp should communicate with are the European Parliament and the United Nations Human Rights Council. "I did not ask governments to interfere," he added. "But sometimes people react based on the initial reactions to an article, and not to the article itself. They wouldn't give themselves the chance to understand."
"I usually read my articles, not because I am self-centered, but because I try to improve myself and reconsider any immature postures or bad phrasing," Hamzawy added, revealing that his following article would seek to further clarify the misunderstanding.
"I would like to see a constitution that is committed to the international codes and human rights standards. For example, if I see that the constitution does not protect the rights of women, I wouldn't accept it. In this regard, I have my reservations about the amendments made to Article 36 [which doubters believe could reduce sex equality in different aspects]."
Hamzawy also voiced displeasure that the Constituent Assembly's discussions are always held behind closed doors. "That’s why there in no civil society dialogue … There shouldn't be such hostility and fear between parties and figures; drafting the constitution is more pivotal than such disputes. It's the future of Egypt we're talking about here.
"But it will take some time for different forces…to agree as much as they disagree," Hamzawy went on. "The attempts by each political current to try to rule out one another, whether Islamists or liberals, are not acceptable."