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Egypt's liberal forces take aim at draft constitutional articles
The recent appearance of two different constitutional drafts draws fire from Egypt's liberal forces, who say the move has killed any hope for viable consensus
Gamal Essam El-Din, Tuesday 16 Oct 2012
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Row over the draft constitution
A general view of the two chambers of parliament meeting to elect the 100 members of the constituent assembly in Cairo June 12, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Egypt's liberal and leftist  forces have criticised two different drafts of Egypt’s long-awaited constitution, both of which were unveiled within the last week.

At a Tuesday meeting of the Constituent Assembly – the body tasked with drawing up a new national charter – Ayman Nour, chairman of the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra Party, said: "It was by no means a good time to unveil the drafts because political forces are still negotiating their differences over a number of key articles." Nour added that the move would "make it quite difficult for Islamist and secular forces to reach a consensus."

Fouad Badrawi, member of the liberal Wafd party, for his part, said that the unveiling of two constitutional drafts in one week was a clear sign that "certain forces inside the Constituent Assembly want to hijack the constitution-drafting process for their own interests; they want to impose on the nation their version of the charter." He went on to describe the move as "a hasty decision," adding that "there should be a degree of national consensus before the announcement of any drafts." 

Badrawi also noted the differences between the two drafts, pointing out that last week's draft made no mention of Egypt's Al-Azhar, the most authoritative religious institution in the Sunni-Muslim world. "But we were surprised that this week's draft included a new article [Article 4] regulating the role of Al-Azhar," he said. "This article states that Al-Azhar is an 'independent institution' and that 'the selection of its grand Imam will be regulated by law'."

This week's draft, Badrawi added, also states that "once approved via public referendum, the constitution can be amended only five years after it is first put into effect."

The two drafts also prompted angry reactions from Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC). In a Tuesday statement, the SCC claimed that the draft constitution stripped the court of its independence and put it at the mercy of the presidency. The SCC went on to state that its powers should be defined in a separate chapter of the constitution, not under that devoted to the judiciary as a whole. "This is necessary to guarantee that the court isn't part of any authority; that it remains completely independent and that its rulings are binding on all state authorities," the SCC stated.

The Egyptian National Movement (ENM), led by prominent constitutional law professor Ibrahim Darwish, also condemned the drafts, arguing that "they maintain most of the draconian powers granted to the president by the 1971 constitution." In a statement, the ENM added: "The draft strips women of their rights on grounds that these rights should not violate the rules of Islamic Law."

The movement went on to state that the draft "also challenges media freedoms and represents an assault against judicial independence." The ENM added that Egypt did not require two houses of parliament, "because this represents a waste of money and effort," going on to assert that political parties for workers and farmers should be established "before their representatives relinquish the right to occupy 50 per cent of the seats in parliament."

Some Salafist forces, meanwhile, also launched scathing attacks against the draft constitution. The Assala Party and the Salafist Front both declared that they would "strongly object to any constitution that fails to clearly state that the rules of Islamic Law should represent the major source of legislation in Egypt."

In response, Constituent Assembly Chairman Hossam El-Ghiryani insisted that the drafts "are not final; they will be left to national dialogue." He added: "It was necessary to unveil them now because the public has a right to know about them rather than being kept in the dark or merely learning about them from the media."

Atef El-Banna, prominent constitutional law professor and deputy Constituent Assembly chairman, told Al-Ahram Online that "there are no major differences between the two drafts; besides, the entire matter will be left to amendments approved by the public and constitutional law experts." He added: "The drafts are not final. The argument that it is 'too early' to unveil them is nonsense, because the public will learn the facts from the drafts themselves rather than be left victims of distorted press reports about the assembly's activities."

The unveiling of the two drafts came after secular and Islamist factions within the assembly were able to hash out some of their ideological differences during four closed-door meetings.

Wafd Party Chairman El-Sayed El-Badawi, for his part, revealed on 12 October that most factions had agreed that Article 2 of Egypt's 1971 Constitution – which states that "the principles of Islamic Law are the main source of legislation in Egypt" – should be maintained as is. However, he added, an article will be added stating that, in cases of personal litigation, Christians and Jews will be subject to their own laws, rituals and religious leaders.

El-Badawi also indicated that the Salafists had decided to moderate their position on a particularly thorny issue: the crime of blasphemy.

According to one informed source, it had been decided that blasphemy crimes should be regulated by law, "but [the Salafists] insisted on the addition of an article criminalising any kind of insult directed at the prophets, especially the Prophet Mohamed."  Human rights organisations, meanwhile, insist that this article aims to prevent Shiite Muslims from expressing views critical of Mohamed's wives and disciples.

Salafist assembly member Younis Makhyoun said the ultraconservative Nour Party had shown flexibility on Article 2. He said the party had moderated its calls to include an article giving Al-Azhar a "role" – rather than the final word – in deciding Islamic Law issues, while toning down its demand that Article 3 state that "ultimate sovereignty belongs to God rather than to the people alone."

In exchange for these concessions, he added, the Salafists had proposed a separate article (Article 4) stating that "the opinion of Al-Azhar on Islamic Law issues should be explored and Al-Azhar and its grand imam should remain independent of all state supervision."

Maged Shibita, a member of the Constituent Assembly's system of governance committee, also indicated that the Salafist position had softened regarding a proposed article establishing a state institution for alms-giving. "Secularists had said this article should not be part of the constitution, but should instead be regulated by law," Shibita said.

Articles pertaining to religion have not been the only issue delaying completion of the national charter. El-Badawi says that settling differences over the chapter devoted to freedoms and rights, "especially articles dealing with women, children and press freedoms," had also taken considerable effort and time.

El-Badawi indicated that the two factions had not been able to find common ground on Article 36, which aims to ensure equality between men and women. Salafists reject the article outright, asserting that it contradicts the rulings of Islamic Law. They say that the article stating that "equality between women and men in all respects of life should be preserved, but without violating Islamic Law."

Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood also object to any articles that criminalise the trafficking of women and children. They assert that international agreements banning the practice reflect Western values.  Salafists also want a complete ban on non-Abrahamic religions – especially Bahaism – in terms of the construction of houses of worship.

Meanwhile, a new war of words has broken out between Constituent Assembly chairman El-Ghiryani and members of the States Cases Authority (SCA). A 14 October meeting aimed at settling differences failed.

Ahmed Khalifa, judge and Constituent Assembly member, said that El-Ghiryani was refusing to give members of the two authorities any judicial powers. "This reflects a negative view of the two authorities that want to play greater roles in cracking down on corruption," said Khalifa.

On Tuesday, nine public figures were elected members of the Constituent Assembly. They will replace nine figures who had earlier opted to withdraw from the constitution-drafting body. The newly-elected members are:  Hatem Azzam, Wagih El-Shimi, Abdel-Moneim El-Tunisi, Omar Abdel-Hadi, Mibid Al-Garhi, Ramadan Batikh, Suzi Nashed, Ahmed El-Biali, George Misiha and Rifaat Laqousha.





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8



Sarah
20-10-2012 07:52pm
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Be careful what are you attacking
Dear Dianna,Who are you exactly attacking are you attacking men or attacking Sharea laws in Islam DOGS,DOOR MATS,MURDERS IS THAT IN IASLAM???IF It is true I will be the first one to leave Islam. I think the problem is not in Islamic laws The problem is the one who does not anything about it and echos what liberal and politician says please go read a book about Women Islam and see How Islam honored women ,remember how women shared in battles with prophet(pbu) and how he was consulting Aisha,and what about children in Islam did Islam torture them too,look at prophet(pbu)when he was praying and his grandson climbed on him and he still prayed and now if our kid does that we would knock him down to continue praying. Talking a lot about issuing laws against marrying daughters to Arabs for money If we have a law like that Do you think the daughter that she could not tell the Maazoon(sheikh documenting marriage)that she does not want this marriage will dare to go file a case against her dad t
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7



Suzi
17-10-2012 10:16pm
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Time to stand up
Egyptian women have to face the ugly truth about constitution assembly members who is trying to lock them out from all aspects of normal life and fight for their rights to be the same human been as men. And how those Salafist will improve economical situation without having women have appropriate education and have job so they can play a role in the economy. Instead they want young girls to be forced to marry and steal their life. And in case if husband can't provide for the whole family young daughters can be sold to wealthy Arabs, this is why word "trafficking" has been removed from one of the article. Terrible! They all have to go to jail for their even thinking as these men are dangerous. Women, don't give up, at any cost. For the save of your daughters and granddaughters.
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Nora
21-10-2012 08:51am
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it is time to stand against hate and bigotry.
Islam has great respect and appreciation for women when compared with other religions. Before you cast wild accusation on how Islam treats women, please seek education on the topic. Several of AO comments represent focused attach on Islam and Muslims. Guess what, Egypt has more than 90% of its population as Muslims.
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Christian D. Honkanen
17-10-2012 06:59pm
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Give freedom of religion to all Egyptians
Egypt’s constitution needs to be clear and unequivocal when it comes to freedom of religion. It’s a contradiction to believe that Islam is superior to all religions and at the same time, prevent Muslims from hearing what their Christian neighbors believe. To fear apostasy is to presuppose that once a Muslim man off the streets understands Christianity, he will leave the faith. Preventing a true Islamic son from making a conscious decision whether or not to follow Allah is akin to treating the Muslim man as a child. Apostasy laws are the ultimate control held over the head of Muslims. They can’t leave Islam, unless they’re willing to be killed for that choice. What do the Imams fear about Christians? In Christianity, believers are not given ultimatums with the power of death to keep them in the Christian flock. The word “flock” alone should give a ready image of Christians as sheep with Jesus as our shepherd. We seek to worship God and serve our fellow men, women, children and societ
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Ansari
21-10-2012 06:19am
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To Christian D
Honkanen, there is plenty of religious freedom in Islam, the problem with you guys is that you dont read the Islamic law, instead you leave the reading of Islamic law to foreign Western press which is awfully against Islam. Please go and read and then write about it otherwise you are nothing but ignorant commentator. Knowledge will make you a good commentator.
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Mona
17-10-2012 04:21pm
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To Haidar
Light or Dark? DARK! Ignorance Predudice Intolerance and Violence squandered Arab enligthment legacy to the World, thanks to you, it brought it back to Dark Ages, what "good" are contributing now? Name them.
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Nora
17-10-2012 07:27am
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Who cares
The average Egyptian is tied down to his/her daily needs in order to survive. Most parties, press and talk show hosts are spinning the problems in away that has polarized the society. I am afraid that we have reached a point where we are heading for civil war over a textual variance in a document that is similar to 1971's version. It is quite clear that some would prefer the collapse of the county, over modest improvement by their enemies {MB et al}
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3



Dianna
17-10-2012 01:36am
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Treatment of Women and Children
Why are so many of the men of the Arab world, so afraid of allowing women and children the right to be treated as humans? Women can be such a blessing to not ony your home and family but to your business and your religious experience. Women and children are not dogs or door mats to be tread on, they are an integral part of existence. They should not be subject to being beat on or murdered in the guise of honor killings, this is in its self the definition of insanity. How do you justify the murder of the victim of a crime with which they had no active part in other than to be abused by their attacker and to then have their back turned on by the male members of the family and then murdered by her own family members.. Can one man explain to me how this works?? What if it were you, would you expect to be the one murdered by the female members of your family to restore their honor? Women have the God Given right to learn, and should be allowed to reach their full potential, as do childre
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2



Neter
17-10-2012 01:05am
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You only have a small amount of time left to act decisively
It took Islamists one year in Iran to consolidate power across the whole fabric of society before they had complete control and had formed the elite revolutionary guards or Baseej - their personal militia. The socialists and Democrats, most of them students started it all and then before they knew it the CIA flew Khomeini over from Paris and Iran went back 1000 years. The first thing they did was start eliminating all opposition by mass executions and then Women's Rights and Minority Rights were slashed. Before long they had penetrated the army and now Iran is a totalitarian dictatorship and the seed of most of the ills in the Middle East. By the way the final consequence is that most of the youth are now alienated from religion. God Help Egypt.
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1



Aladdin, Egypt
16-10-2012 10:41pm
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Regressive VS Progressive Forces
I would make sure that Bckaward group will not get their way to hujack the country and take back to Dark Age. Their long criminal record--not their empty slogans-- is the basis for predicting what they will do. Allah AKber.
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Aladdin, Egypt
21-10-2012 03:33am
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No Religious Dictatorship
It is what I want. Religions are for personal use not governing modern society. Religions are based on absolute, undisputable dogma.
Hamam Cairo
17-10-2012 07:36am
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The long criminal record nelongs to the left
It wasm the left that ruined Egypt, murderedits intellectuals. It was the left that made Egypt suffer the most humiliating Arab defeat in rexcent history.
Haidar
17-10-2012 07:18am
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Dark or LIght?
Which Dark ages you talk about???? That Dark in which whole Europe acquired knowledge for Islamic Universities, Forget about world's best architect in spain and Turkey? or want your country so progressive and fast that after each 45 second one women rape?? just like in US ...so My Dear be specific what you want ..

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