Mohamed Salmawy, media spokesman for the 50-member committee mandated with writing the final draft of Egypt's new constitution, disclosed Sunday that a special mini-committee, including military and civilian figures, has been formed to review articles related to the regulation of the armed forces in Egypt's new post-30 June constitution.
According to Salmawy, the move comes after leading officials of the 50-member committee and a military delegation representing the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) held a four-hour meeting on Saturday.
"The mini-committee will be headed by Cairo University professor Abdel-Gelil Mostafa and include two figures representing SCAF (major-generals Mohamed Magd El-din Barakat and Maher Manaa Gad Al-Haq) along with three senior members of the committee of fifty," said Salmawy.
The objective of the mini-committee is to scrutinise the articles regulating the performance of the armed forces and find common ground between army officials and the constitution-drafting committee regarding the formulation of such articles."
Salmawy indicated that Amr Moussa, chairman of the committee of fifty, has given the mini-committee one week to reach agreement so that the matter can be discussed in a plenary session next week.
The spokesman refuted some charges that "the objective of the mini-committee is to strip members of the committee of fifty of the ability to exert pressure regarding the powers and privileges granted to the army by previous constitutions."
"Let me emphasise again that the objective is not to waste a lot of time in discussing articles related to the army, but to reach a common ground as soon as possible so that we can have an initial draft of the new constitution before the Eid Al-Adha (the Bairam feast) holiday - scheduled on 13 October," said Salmawy.
Salmawy explained that the four-hour meeting on Saturday focused on listening to army officials, who delivered a review of the regional, international and local challenges facing Egypt.
"The army officials argued that the new constitution should respond accordingly and provide the armed forces with all the necessary powers to stand up to such challenges."
Salmawy also indicated that senior officials of the committee of fifty agreed that the Egyptian people highly appreciate the role of the armed forces in deposing Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. "The army supported Egyptians who turned out in their millions on 30 June to ask for change, and as a result the new constitution should reflect the close relationship and joint objectives of the people and the army," argued Salmawy.
The suspended 2012 constitution, amended by a ten-member technical committee last August, regulates the performance of the armed forces under a separate chapter (chapter 4), which includes six articles (170, 171, 172, 173, 174 and 175).
Articles 170, 171, and 172 define: the job of the armed forces, the way in which the minister of defence is selected and the measures necessary for regulating his service, as well as the promotion and retirement of army personnel. The remaining three articles (173, 174, and 175) regulate the performance and jobs of the National Defence Council, military courts, and the National Security Council.
Other constitution business
In a press conference on Sunday, Salmawy also indicated that a legal committee was formed last Wednesday to reach a decision on whether the constitutional declaration – issued by interim-president Adli Mansour on 8 July – should be amended to clarify whether the job of the committee of fifty is to write a new constitution for Egypt or just amend the 2012 constitution, which was drafted by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.
"This legal committee is expected to reach a decision tomorrow or shortly after, and it will then be discussed at the 50-member committee's plenary meeting next Wednesday," said Salmawy.
Salmawy argued that a presidential statement, issued last Saturday, stressed that interim-President Mansour had not yet issued an addendum to the 8 July Constitutional Declaration to formally request that the 50-member committee writes a new constitution. "The statement said it had not issued an addendum but it did not say it would not issue one," added Salmawy.
"Whether the 8 July decree is amended or not, the fact remains that the 2012 constitution will be changed completely and Egypt will have a new national charter expressing the two basic demands of the revolutions of the 25 January and the 30 June: national independence and separation between politics and religion," argued Salmawy.
Salmawy also confirmed that a special committee, entrusted with reviewing the language of the articles drafted by the sub-committees, has finished re-writing 50 articles of the new constitution. "The special committee, also headed by Abdel-Gelil Mostafa, has received a total of 100 articles that have been drafted by different subcommittees in recent days, and by the end of Saturday had finished re-writing 50 of them."
Salmawy disclosed that Hussein Abdel-Razeq, the representative of the leftist Tagammu party, proposed that article 54 be amended to state that political parties cannot be based on religious foundations or backgrounds. "This is different from the current text, which states that political parties cannot be based on religious foundations – without adding "backgrounds."
According to Salmawy, Abdel-Razeq's proposal garnered a lot of support and is aimed at preventing activists from exploiting religion in any way to set up political parties.
Salmawy refused to disclose how controversial article 3, which spells out rights for religious minorities, was drafted. However, he indicated the new draft has gained the support of Egyptian churches, the Sunni Islamic institute of Al-Azhar and most members of the committee. It is proposed that article 3, which "guarantees that Egyptian Christians and Jews have the right to exercise their religious rites," be extended to include all non-Muslims.
Finally, Salmawy said it is expected that Egypt's new constitution will not be as long as Brazilian or Indian versions, or as short as the American document. "It will be somewhere in the middle, with less than 300 articles," he said.
Salmawy indicated that the first draft of Egypt's new constitution will be completed next week or before the holiday of Eid Al-Adha. "After the holiday, the initial draft will be discussed in televised plenary sessions," said Salmawy, adding that "after members vote on articles, the final draft will be sent to the President so that it can be put to a national referendum within two weeks."