Time-table for finalising draft Egypt constitution remains uncertain

Ahram Online, Monday 30 Jul 2012

Muslim Brotherhood representative says draft constitution will be ready for referendum by late September, while Constituent Assembly spokesman says project will require another three months

Wahid Abdel-Meguid
Constituent assembly spokesperson Wahid Abdel-Meguid

Sobhi Saleh, a Muslim Brotherhood representative on Egypt's Constituent Assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – stated on Monday that a preliminary draft of Egypt's new national charter would be ready to be put before a popular referendum before 24 September, the date on which Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) is slated to rule on the constitutionality of the assembly itself.  

Saleh's statements came after the SAC had adjourned proceedings in the case earlier the same day.

Saleh also asserted that seven weeks were enough to draft a new national charter, adding that a first draft would be presented to the public for discussion by the middle of next month, during which articles might be added or removed.

Constituent Assembly spokesman Wahid Abdel-Meguid, however, said on the same day that the drafting of Egypt's new constitution would require an additional three months before it could be put before the public for approval.    

Abdel-Meguid went on to note that final agreement had yet to be reached on Article 2 of the constitution, stressing that suggestions and proposals in this regard were still being heard.

Article 2 of Egypt's 1971 constitution – which states that "principles of Islamic Law" should represent the "principal source" of legislation in Egypt – has led to disputes among assembly members.

Islamist, particularly Salafist, assembly members have called for the removal of the word "principles," making Islamic Law the sole basis for legislation. Liberal and civil political forces, for their part, call for the article to remain in its current form.

The SAC, meanwhile, is slated to hold its next hearing into the case against the assembly's constitutionality on 24 September.

Lawyers for the Muslim Brotherhood have filed a petition calling for the recusal of the presiding judges in the case, claiming the latter were biased against the assembly. They point to an earlier SAC ruling that led to the dissolution of Egypt's first Constituent Assembly.

The first constitution-drafting body was dissolved in April after the SAC ruled it unconstitutional on the grounds that it included several members of parliament. The court based its ruling on Egypt's March 2011 Constitutional Declaration, arguing that MPs could not elect themselves to the assembly. 

In the meantime, parliament's lower house, which selected the current assembly's 100 members, has also been dissolved, based on a court ruling deeming last year's legislative elections unconstitutional. Many observers, therefore, expect the assembly to be likewise dissolved.

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