Morsi defends Constituent Assembly to US Egyptians

Ahram Online, Thursday 27 Sep 2012

President Morsi asserts constitution-drafting body includes representatives from Egypt's minority groups at UN General Assembly gathering on Monday, after female activist resigned due to 'Islamist intimidation'

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012 (Photo: AP)

President Mohamed Morsi confirmed that he "does not have the right to intervene in the work of Egypt's Constituent Assembly" during a meeting with representatives from the Egyptian community in the US following his address to the 67th session United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday.

Morsi maintained that the constitution-drafting body does "include Coptic Christians, women and representatives from all sections of Egypt's diverse society."

The president's comments come after human rights activist Manal El-Tibi, one of the few female members of the constitution-drafting body, resigned due to alleged intimidation by Islamist members on Monday.

The assembly had already suffered a number of withdrawals for similar reasons when it was first formed. The Egyptian Bloc parties, the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Democratic Front Party left in order allow greater representation for women, youth and Copts, while also registering their objection to "Islamist monopolisation" of the body.  

The president moved on to discuss some of the key decisions made by the Constituent Assembly in the last few weeks.

Morsi affirmed that everyone had "agreed to leave the wording of Article 2", which outlines the role of Islamic Sharia law in Egyptian legislation, despite attempts by the ultraconservative Salafist members to have it altered.

Article 2 stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is the official language and "principles" of Islamic Sharia law are the major source of legislation in Egypt.

The Salafist members had wanted the text to read "the rules of Islamic Sharia" and to ensure that the Sunni Islamic institution of Al-Azhar is the main reference on Islamic Sharia matters, leading liberal and Christian factions to fear that this would be the start of the "Islamisation of Egypt." 

The assembly is slated to finalise the new draft constitution by the end of September. Some observers, however, express doubt that the draft charter will be ready this soon.

The troubled assembly still faces the risk of dissolution by court order in October on the grounds that its members were appointed by the People's Assembly, the since-dissolved lower house of Egypt's parliament.

Earlier on Wednesday, Morsi addressed the UN General Assembly, where he stressed the significance of his visit as "Egypt's first democratically elected civilian president."

In his speech, Morsi asserted that Egyptians share a renewed sense of self-confidence following the creation of a post-revolution state "based on rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights."

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