In an abrupt change from its earlier radical position, the ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party announced it would welcome the Sunni Islamic institution of Al-Azhar having the final say on whether "Islamic identity articles" are included in Egypt's post-30 June constitution or not.
By "identity articles," the Nour Party means Islamic Sharia articles, drafted by the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly in 2012, including controversial Article 219.
Article 219 states: "The principles of Islamic Sharia include its commonly accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules and it's widely considered sources, as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa." Critics of the article say it leaves the door open for discrimination against non-Sunni minorities.
The Nour Party's chairman, Younis Makhioun, said he - and representatives of other political parties - attended Sunday’s meeting with interim-President Adli Mansour to discuss Egypt's post-30 June political roadmap.
Ahead of the meeting, Makhioun said the Nour Party is keen to see a settlement reached regarding disputed articles, through negotiations among all political forces and factions.
The Nour Party's new position represents a shift from earlier statements, emphasising that "the party would not accept that Article 219 – and other Islamic identity articles – be eliminated from the new constitution."
Representatives of Al-Azhar said they are against any articles aimed at turning Egypt into a religious state. Mohamed Abdel-Salam, chairman of the State and Foundational Principles Committee and legal advisor to the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, said "some imams in the last period have highly distorted the image of Islam and all should know that Islam rejects a religious state."
The Nour Party's position was highly lauded by Anwar El-Sadat, chairman of the liberal-oriented Reform and Development party. According to El-Sadat, "the Nour Party's decision to leave the final word on Islamic Sharia articles to the moderate and highly-esteemed institution of Al-Azhar is a very honourable and progressive step ... because Al-Azhar enjoys unlimited appreciation from all forces, including Egyptian churches," he said.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Salmawy, media spokesman for the 50-member committee entrusted with writing the final draft of Egypt's new constitution, told a press conference Sunday that "there is an almost 100 percent agreement that Article Two of the 2012 constitution will be maintained. This article states: "Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation."
Salmawy said that "some members proposed merging articles one and two, but this was rejected." He added that after almost one week of business, the 50-member constitutional group's sub-committees have almost reached consensus on 12 articles. "Besides, two articles - 37 and 38 - were amended by the Rights and Freedoms sub-committee," said Salmawy.
Amended Article 37 states: "Dignity is a right for every human being and cannot be touched. It is obligatory for all state authorities to guarantee and protect the right of human dignity in accordance with the international convention on human rights."
Article 38 mandates: "Citizens are equal before the law in terms of rights, duties and freedoms, without discrimination in terms of sex, gender, origin, language, religion, doctrine, social position, geographical location, age, handicap or for any other reasons. The state commits to combat all forms of discrimination, which is a crime."
Salmawy recalls, "The constitutional decree, issued on 8 June, refrained from stating that the job of the 50-member committee is confined to amending some articles and leaving others intact."
The decree, he argues, leaves the door open for the 50-member committee to revise and amend all of the 2012 constitution's articles.
"All articles, including the constitution's preamble, will be changed so that we will have a completely new constitution at the end," said Salmawy, adding, "It is very important to change the preamble because it reflects the constitution's spirit and philosophy."
Salmawy added, "This is a holy task to which members must devote their full time. Morning and evening meetings will be held almost every day to reach a new constitution before the 60-day period expires."
Salmawy said it is not the agenda of the 50-member committee to achieve reconciliation between secular forces and Islamist factions, or to probe the economic and security problems of the country. "This is the job of other institutions," he affirmed.
Salmawy also indicated that the budget of the 50-member committee stands at around LE2.5 million.
"Let me disclose that Islamists who dominated the 2012 constituent assembly spent more than LE5 million, and another LE5 million was allocated to them," said Salmawy, adding, "an amount of LE2.5 million was left and this is quite enough to spend on the 50-member committee ... This amount will be spent on accommodating members of the committee who come from outside Cairo in modest hotels," he added.
In general, he added, all members act as volunteers and feel they have a national obligation to produce a modern constitution for Egypt, reflecting the ideals of the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions."