Egypt's Constitution Party: Draft charter short on rights, equality

Osman El Sharnoubi, Sunday 18 Nov 2012

Mohamed ElBaradei's new Constitution Party says Constituent Assembly's draft national charter is weaker on rights, freedoms than previous 1971 constitution

The recently established Constitution Party, co-founded by prominent reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei, has established a committee to work on the draft constitution currently being hashed out by Egypt's Constituent Assembly – a draft that the party strongly opposes.

"We set up a committee devoted to working on the constitutional issue," party spokesman Emad Abu-Ghazi told Ahram Online.
Asked if the committee planned to draw up an alternative charter, Abu-Ghazi sufficed to say that "the issue is still being studied."

The Constitution Party has been outspoken in its opposition to Egypt's Islamist-led Constituent Assembly and the assembly's draft constitution, of which there have so far been more than one version.

Abu-Ghazi, for his part, complains that the constitutional drafting process under the assembly's direction has been "haphazard," with a new draft charter being produced almost every other day.

In October, the party issued a statement asserting that the assembly's draft charters "not only confuse the political scene, but also contradict the goals and principles of Egypt's revolution."

The current draft charter, the statement went on, "reflects a clear regression from socioeconomic rights and public and individual freedoms, and strengthens the president's authorities in an excessive form thus putting judicial independence at risk."

The Constitution Party was one of several Egyptian political groups to join an initiative opposed to the Constituent Assembly – and its constitutional drafts – launched in October. At the time, party deputy head Ahmed El-Borai (who also served briefly as manpower minister following last year's revolution) provided the party's reasons for rejecting the assembly's draft.

The current draft constitution, he said, "attacks press freedoms, the freedom of creative endeavor and the freedom of civil society, especially concerning laws governing the freedom of trade unions and NGOs."

"What's more, the current draft fails to refer to revolutionary objectives, which are topped by demands for social justice," El-Borai added, noting that the current draft failed to mention the social and economic rights of the Egyptian people.

Hala Shukrallah, a member of the party's steering committee, told Ahram Online that Constituent Assembly members were purposely trying to curb freedoms of particular groups. According to Shukrallah, the rights of women and minorities, for example, had been curtailed by religious formulations included in the constitutional draft articles.

Furthermore, Shukrallah contends that certain rights – such as the right to education – were better ensured in the previous 1971 constitution, which governed the nation during the Mubarak era.

"We had hoped to expand the freedoms stipulated in the 1971 charter and add new rights in the current draft constitution," Shukrallah asserted. "But now there seems to be movement away from doing this."

Many blame the Constituent Assembly's majority-Islamist composition for the problematic draft charter. The assembly is widely seen as being dominated by Islamist forces, led by Egypt's formidable Muslim Brotherhood.

"The state is being rearranged according to the vision of a single dominant political group," Shukrallah claimed.

The party's October statement reflected this view, calling on national forces to "stand together against the Constituent Assembly's unbalanced composition."

El-Borai warns of attempts to have the draft constitution approved via public referendum before Egypt's High Constitutional Court had the chance to rule on the constitution-drafting body's legitimacy.

The Constituent Assembly still faces possible dissolution, since its members were selected by the People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament), which itself was subsequently declared null and void by court order this summer. 

"The situation will be much more complex if the draft constitution is approved via public referendum and then ruled unconstitutional by the court," El-Borai said.

The Constitution Party is now calling for a new Constituent Assembly, the membership of which, it says, would better reflect Egypt's social diversity.

Short link: