Amended draft of Egyptian constitution to be announced 'very soon'

Gamal Essam El-Din, Wednesday 21 Aug 2013

Amendments to Egypt's 2012 constitution are expected to be announced by Thursday or next Saturday, says Ali Awad, head of 10-member technical committee

Egyptian parliamentarians cast ballots to select a 100-member constituent assembly panel in March 2012 (Photo: AP)

The amended draft of Egypt’s 2012 constitution will be announced Thursday or next Saturday, said Ali Awad, the head of a 10-member technical committee entrusted with amending the national charter.

"This draft is being revised to be issued in its initial form and before it is finally discussed by a 50-member committee representing all sectors of Egyptian society," Awad told parliamentary correspondents Wednesday.

Responding to mixed press reports about the changes introduced to the 2012 constitution, Awad said the committee proposed that three controversial articles be revoked. At the same time, the committee decided to leave the final say to the 50-member committee, he added.

"We recommended that the 33-year-old upper house of parliament (Shura Council) be cancelled; the 50-year-old stipulation that 50 percent of seats in parliament be allocated to representatives of workers and farmers be annulled; and that Article 219 in the 2012 constitution stating an interpretation of Islamic Sharia be eliminated," said Awad.

In a television interview on Tuesday, Awad said: "The committee was firm in changing Article 6 to impose an outright ban on the formation of religious parties." Awad even indicated that another article would be annexed to Article 6 detailing how state authorities will observe the performance of political parties so that they are “not mixing religion with politics or being formed under religious foundations."

"What we saw over one year is that when applying for a license, some political parties stressed that their platform by no means calls for mixing religion with politics. Yet, after some time you clearly see how these Islamist parties exploited religion to attract supporters and to stigmatise their secular rivals as ‘infidels’," said Awad.

He also noted that some Islamist political parties even resorted to forming armed militias or threatening that they would "burn Egypt" if their candidates lost elections.

"I think there will be a general review of the performance of all political parties that have been licensed since 2011. The authorities – such as the Political Parties Committee stated by the 1977's law regulating the performance of political parties or administrative courts – will act as watchdogs over the performance of political parties in the future," Awad stressed.

Article 6 in its amended form states that "it is forbidden to form political parties or perform any activities on the basis of religious foundations or on the basis of discrimination in terms of gender or sex."

Most secular forces hailed the imposition of a ban on the formation of political parties on religious foundations. Awad said that proposals submitted by some 400 political, social and economic forces pressed hard for the necessity of imposing an outright ban on parties mixing politics with religion.

Hassan Abou Taleb, an Ahram political analyst, told Al-Ahram Online that "the elimination of political parties based on religious foundations is a necessity to make sure that Egypt turns into a fully civilian and democratic state."

"Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm – Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) - exploited their one year in office to reinforce their armed militias and direct accusations at their political opponents on religious grounds," said Abou Taleb. "We will never forget when Morsi and his Brotherhood officials gathered fiery clerics at Cairo stadium, describing their political opponents as infidels, nonbelievers and enemies of Islam."

Abou Taleb urged Islamist political parties – such as the Nour Party representing ultra-conservative Salafist forces – to adjust themselves to the new constitutional amendments. "I think it is enough for these Islamist political parties to know that Article 2, which states that Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation, will be maintained and that this is important to keep the Islamic nature of Egypt intact."

“At the same time they (Islamist groups) must know that they no longer have the authority to tailor the constitution to their needs, especially in the form of articles imposing a kind of medieval and radical Islam on the Egyptian society as stated by Article 219," he added.

Abou Taleb said he expected that "there will be a general consensus that Article 219 must be revoked by the 50-member committee."

Article 219, which was added by the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly in 2012, under the Muslim Brotherhood rule, states that: "The principles of Islamic Sharia include its generally-accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules and its widely considered sources as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa."

Leading officials of the Nour Party refused to give comments on the amendments introduced by the 10-member committee.

However, Awad said "Representatives from the Nour Party will join the 50-member committee in giving the final draft of the amendments of 2012 constitution."

Secular forces also hailed the 10-member committee's recommendation that the upper house of parliament – Shura Council – be revoked. "We have always criticised this council, taking it as a tool for tightening the control of ruling regimes – including the Muslim Brotherhood – on the Egyptian national press organisations," said Abou Taleb.

However, the committee's decision to reinstate the individual candidacy system, which has been in use since 1990, has provoked mixed reactions. Hussein Abdel-Razek, a member of the leftist Tagammu Party, said: "Although the individual candidacy is very easy for Egyptians to understand, the problem is that it gives rich businessmen and stalwarts of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) a chance to swamp parliaments again."

The reinstatement of the individual candidacy system, in combination with the committee's decision to eliminate Article 232 stripping leading officials of the NDP and possibility of setting Mubarak free, led some critics in western media to conclude that Egypt will return to the authoritarian tactics of Hosni Mubarak or that the counter-revolution, predicted by the Muslim Brotherhood, has finally succeeded.

"We are aware the Western media and its concerted campaign against the 30 June Revolution insists on manipulating developments to propagate that Egypt is moving towards the old police state." said Abou Taleb. "I think that the Egyptian people, led by revolutionary and democratic forces, will never allow Egypt to plunge again into a political tyranny."

Abdel-Razek proposes that a combination of the individual candidacy and the party list system be adopted to ensure fair representation of all political factions in the upcoming parliaments. "We know that the High Constitutional Court has always ruled against the adoption of the party-list system. However, its judges, in collaboration with political forces in the 50-member committee, must work out a new mixed electoral system (50 percent for independents and 50 percent for party-based candidates) that does not discriminate against independents and encourage citizens to join political parties at the same time," argued Abdel-Razek.

Awad also unveiled that the 10-member committee decided that Article 177 obliging the High Constitutional Court to exert prior scrutiny of key political laws be revoked. "In general, the committee decided that 1971 constitution's chapter four on the regulation of the performance of the High Constitutional Court be reinstated instead of the one stated by 2012's constitution," said Awad. "The chapter in the 1971 constitution ensured complete independence for the court, but it was amended in 2012 for political reasons (to tighten Muslim Brotherhood's control on the court).” In December 2012, supporters of Muslim Brotherhood and deposed president Mohamed Morsi imposed a siege on the High Court for a month, preventing its judges from issuing orders on the legality of Shura Council.

Awad indicated that the 10-member committee left 2012 constitution’s adoption of a mixed parliamentary-presidential system intact. "It also stated that the president of the republic can be put on trial on criminal charges or grand treason after the approval of a third of the People's Assembly – Egypt's lower house parliament."

Awad also indicated that the chapter including transitional articles will state that the incumbent interim President Adly Mansour is to remain in office until presidential elections are held.

Awad said the 10-member committee's amendments has led to cutting the new constitution short from 236 to 198 or even less.

Egypt's interim presidency said it will announce the make-up of the 50-member committee, representing all layers of society “within days.”

Members of the committee will represent political parties, intellectuals, workers, farmers, syndicates, national councils, Al-Azhar, Egyptian Church, armed forces, and police, in addition to other public figures. Ten youth and women are expected to be among the members.

Most members will be chosen by their respective bodies. The Cabinet will choose the public figures of the committee. The 50-member group is assigned to come up with the final draft of the constitution within 60 days. The final draft is expected to be up for public debate within the same period.

The president is to later put the amended version of the constitution to a national referendum within 30 days from receiving the final draft. It will be effective upon public approval.

The 2012 constitution was suspended as part of the Egyptian armed forces' roadmap for Egypt’s future following Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster on 3 July amid mass protests against him.

Egypt's non-Islamist political forces have repeatedly argued that the suspended constitution was not representative of all layers of society and limiting many freedoms. They blame the majority of the Islamist members of the outgoing constituent assembly for ignoring their recommendations.

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