Amid political tension and street protests organised by the Muslim Brotherhood, a 10-member committee including 6 senior judges and 4 high-profile constitutional law professors met on Sunday to begin amending Egypt's 2012 Islamist-backed constitution.
The meeting of the so-called "committee of experts" was held in the oval office of the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament.
According to Ali Awad, committee chairman and Interim President Adly Mansour's constitutional and legal affairs consultant, the two-and-a-half-hour closed-door meeting on Sunday was just "procedural," aiming to settle a timetable for upcoming meetings and agendas.
In a press conference with parliamentary correspondents, Awad explained that during the inaugural meeting, the committee decided to offer a one-week window for all political forces to submit proposed amendments to the 2012 constitution. After 28 July, proposed amendments will be revised by a "technical committee of experts," Awad said.
Proposed amendments can be sent by fax or e-mail, according to Awad.
Awad strongly denied that the committee has devised ready-made amendments to the 2012 constitution. "We do not have tailored amendments to the 2012 constitution," said Awad, stressing that "the committee is not under pressure or orders to draft the amendments in a certain way."
According to Awad, "it is too early to decide" which articles must be amended. In any event, Awad added, the committee has agreed that the 2012 constitution be revised article by article so that all remarks raised by political forces can be carefully reviewed.
"Our revision, coupled with the amendments proposed by political forces, will help us finalise a new draft of the 2012 constitution," Awad said.
Awad revealed that revisions will begin on Tuesday, 23 July, with meetings held daily except for Mondays and Thursdays. "We will hold morning and evening meetings until we reach the 21 August deadline," indicated Awad. This is in accordance with the deadline set by Article 28 of Interim President Mansour's constitutional declaration.
The experts committee's six judicial members include Mohamed Eid Mahgoub, secretary-general of the Higher Council for Judges; Hassan Basiouny, a Cairo appeals judge; Mohamed El-Shennawy and Mohamed Khairy Taha, High Constitutional Court (HCC) deputy chairmen; and Essam El-Din Abdel-Aziz and Magdi El-Agati; State Council deputy chairmen.
The four university professors include Fathi Fekri of Cairo University, Hamdi Ali Omar, dean of Zagazig's Faculty of Law, Salah Eddin Fawzi of Mansoura University, and Ali Abdel-Al of Ain Shams University.
Awad stressed that according to Article 29 of Mansour's constitutional declaration, all amendments proposed by the committee will be submitted to a larger committee for review. This larger committee will be composed of 50 members representing all sectors of society, including political parties, intellectuals, workers, farmers, professional syndicates, unionists, Al-Azhar, Egyptian churches, the armed forces and the police. The 50-member committee must also include 10 youth and women.
"The committee of experts will only be in charge of proposing an initial draft of the constitution, while the 50-member committee will be the one entrusted with devising the final draft of the new constitution."
According to Article 30 of the constitutional declaration, after the final draft is submitted to the president, it must be put to a national referendum within 30 days. If the referendum is approved, the president must set a date for parliamentary elections within 15 days. Within one week of the House of Representatives' first session, a date for presidential elections must be set.
The 2012 constitution was originally drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly on 30 November, 2012. It was attacked by non-Islamist members, who said Morsi was turning into another "Pharoah" with despotic powers limiting freedom of speech and imposing a strict Islamic code.
The constitution was approved in a two-round national referendum on 15 and 22 December, 2012, receiving 64 percent vote in favor.
Pro-Morsi protesters attempting to stage a demonstration outside the American embassy on Sunday were blocked by police from nearing the Shura Council.
Muslim Brotherhood members strongly denounced the committee's meeting, framing it as "a coup against legitimacy."