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Salafists and liberals exchange fire over Egypt's draft constitution

Ideological differences over the draft constitution have reached a crescendo with the two main factions, Islamists and liberals, threatening to withdraw from the Assembly tasked with writing the national charter

Gamal Essam Eldin, Monday 22 Oct 2012
Salafists and liberals exchange fire over the draft constitution
The Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting Egypt's new constitution (Photo: AP)
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An argument between Islamists and liberals over the terms of the draft constitution erupted on Monday, jeopardising the fate of the charter. The two camps both said that unless their conditions were met, they would withdraw from the ranks of the 100-member Constituent Assembly tasked with writing the constitution.

The ultraconservative Salafists of the Nour Party demanded that Article 2 on sharia (Islamic law) be amended to state that “the rules of Islamic sharia are the main source of legislation in Egypt.”

Nour Party member Noureddin Ali told Ahram Online that “all the Salafist members of the Assembly [around 20] agreed that articles about Islamic sharia in the draft constitution cannot be a matter of negotiation, because this would go against the interests of a country with a majority-Muslim population, and this is a red line for us.”

According to Ali, Salafist members insist that the 1971 constitution’s version of Article 2, which refers to "the principles of Islamic sharia" should be amended to read "the rules of Islamic sharia" are the main source of legislation in Egypt.

Ali added that the members are also insisting that articles that mention equality between men and women should be amended to state that this equality should be in line with Islamic sharia.

Ali told parliamentary correspondents today that most Salafist forces believe that “complete equality between women and men reflects liberal Western values, and this goes against Islamic sharia which, for instance, states that in matters of inheritance, men and women cannot be equal.” 

"We cannot sell our religion just to satisfy Westernised secularists and their liberal values.”

Meanwhile, liberals launched a scathing on against the Assembly constitution-formulation committee led by Mohamed Mahsoub, the minister of state for parliamentary affairs. A statement issued on Monday and signed by Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of Arab League, and political activist Ayman Nour, said that “the constitution-formulation committee imposed a kind of hegemony over the Assembly’s activities.” 

“This hegemony is rejected by civil forces who believe that some members of this committee want the president of the republic to retain the draconian powers conferred by 1971’s constitution.”

Mohamed Mohieddin, a member of the Assembly’s system of governance committee, told Ahram Online that “it seems clear that some members of the constitution-formulation committee are not still aware that one of the basic goals of the 25 January Revolution is that the huge Pharaonic powers granted to Egypt’s presidents by former constitutions –the 1971 constitution in particular – should be curtailed.” 

“Unfortunately,” Mohieddin added, “most of these powers were left in the draft constitution, such as giving the president of the republic an upper hand in appointing judges to the High Constitutional Court, and appointing a quarter of the members of the upper consultative house [the Shura Council].” 

He also complained that the president of the republic is not subject to any kind of accountability before parliament, and that he has free and unlimited powers over the army and police.

Mohieddin also indicated that liberal forces reject any attempts by ultraconservative Islamist forces – especially Salafists – to impose their perception of Islamic sharia on the draft constitution. 

“We would withdraw if we saw that Salafists and the 12-member constitution-formulation committee reject any kind of compromise and opt to impose their hegemony on the constitution,” said Mohieddin. He warned that the wide gulf between liberal forces on the one hand and Islamist and authoritarian members on the other would lead to the collapse of the Constituent Assembly from within.

Maged Shibita, a member of the system of governance committee, confirmed that there are major differences over the powers granted to the president of the republic by the draft constitution. 

“Civil forces ask that the president is granted the right of appointing ten members only in Shura Council, and that he should not exercise any kind of control over judicial authorities, notably the High Constitutional Court,” Shibita said. 

He also explained that liberal forces insist that the president should submit his resignation if the public vote no to dissolving parliament in a public referendum.

Several political and liberal forces have voiced their objections to the activities of the Constituent Assembly, arguing that the draft constitution is biased against the rights of women and strips judicial authorities of their independence. They have also questioned why the Obama administration in the US has announced its support of the draft constitution in spite of criticism leveled against it by liberal forces and human rights organisations such as the US-based Human Rights Watch.

For their part, members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) are trying their best to hash out differences between liberals and Salafists. Farid Ismail, a leading member of FJP, said that “the clash between secularists and Salafists is just a matter of difference in points of view, rather than severe ideological conflict that can bring about the collapse of the Constituent Assembly.” 

Ismail also strongly denied that the constitution is being drafted to serve the interests of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. “Our members are not exploiting their membership of the assembly to give the president greater powers,” argued Ismail, adding that “by contrast we adopted a mixed presidential-parliamentary system that forces the president to share powers with the prime minister.”
 

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Adam
23-10-2012 11:20am
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You cleaerly dont understand what a consitutuion is
A consitution has nothing to do with those in power nothing to do with the MAJORTY NOW. A consitutuion is about protecting the RIGHTS of people especially the minorities and also clearly stating the power of the state so you dont get another Dictator. Islamist or not the constituon being written now serves none of these goals.
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3



Concerned Egyptian
23-10-2012 10:47am
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8+
What a mess
I feel very sad to see how the country is turning into a big cluster fudge! Each party is trying to represent their own interests without any consideration for the people themselves! This last year and a half has clearly shown to us how this country, unfortunately is far from ready for democracy. With a big proportion of the country being poor and illiterate, and I hate to say this, the middle class' interests will never match theirs'. Egypt, what have you become?!
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abu
23-10-2012 06:46am
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12+
referendum
lets have individual referendum for contentious articles. both parties must shut up and accept the will of the majority. if 50% + 1 say 'yes' to islamic law, so be it. i hope the secular forces will not create any further excuses like what they are doing now
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Nazmi Muhammed
22-10-2012 09:19pm
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6+
Let us go back to the people
Then let us go back to the people and have a referendum. what if the people said Yes to the Islamic rules and laws? would the liberals then shut up.
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Najjar
24-10-2012 04:11am
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2+
Dina Dina Dina
Thank you for admitting you fear of democracy and fear of people's choice. So following your reasoning that helping the poor and the needy is a bribery, then I am sure the world would not mind this type bribery. If for decades of moral bankruptcy, helping in organized and disciplined manner a section, what am I saying? the majority of the people in need of help and assistance that have been neglected by the corrupt regime composed of thieves and murderers for decades and with silent self-serving and self-indulging class who calls itself 'liberal' , if you call that bribery, then I don't mind seeing it spreading around the globe. Your kind give bad name to the genuine and human liberals and of which you have absolutely no clue as to what being liberal mean, pity.
Anonymous
23-10-2012 01:12am
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Not going to happen
Yah like that would ever happen, you got the 22 million who voted shafiq and you got the 22 million - the 5 million Morsi supporters who voted for him during the first round = the revolutionaries. Yah there's absolutely no way that would happen with an overwhelming majority of secular support
najjar
22-10-2012 11:44pm
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I Doubt it brother...
I doubt it, they want 'democracy' but don't know or don't want to accept the inconveniences that come with it. LOL
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