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Egypt's interim constitutional declaration draws criticisms

Some critics say the new declaration includes controversial articles from the suspended 2012 constitution

Ahram Online, Tuesday 9 Jul 2013
Interim Constitutional Declaration draws criticisms
This image made from video shows Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, center, flanked by military and civilian leaders in including reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei, far left, Tamarod leader Mahmoud Badr, second left, Grand Sheik of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, third from right, and Pope Tawadros II, second from right, as he addresses the nation on Egyptian State Television Wednesday, July 3, 2013 (Photo: AP)

The constitutional declaration issued Monday night by interim president Adly Mansour has sparked opposition, with some calling for it to be amended before it comes into force when it is published in Egypt's official gazette.   

The 33-article declaration, effective for at least six months, outlines the roadmap for the coming transitional period, setting a schedule for constitutional reform and elections.

However, some critics were disappointed by the declaration, as many of its articles are recycled from Egypt's constitution, which was approved in December 2012 and suspended last week after the armed forces removed president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against him.

The ‘Rebel’ (Tamarod) Campaign, which spearheaded the 30 June protests that toppled Morsi, released a statement criticising the declaration, as did leftist and liberal groups, including the 6 April Youth Movement, the Free Egyptians Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.

Rebel spokesperson Mahmoud Badr said that Mohamed ElBaradei, whom the group nominated to represent them, and legal expert Mona Zu El-Fakar, are currently making amendments to the decree and will present them to the presidency later on Tuesday. He did not offer details as to which articles they objected to.

Presidential powers

The constitutional declaration gives the interim president Adly Mansour, who was sworn in last Thursday, wide executive and legislative authorities.

The cabinet is given the roles of setting policies in coordination with the presidency, and of regulating ministries' work.

Gamal Eid, rights lawyer and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, criticised the declaration for giving the president overweening powers, saying that the prime minister should have been given "balanced authorities" to the president.

"The prime minister should have clearly outlined powers that are equal to those of the president," he said.  

The president's legislative powers were also criticised.

According to the temporary charter, the president holds legislative authorities along with the cabinet that will have a mandatory consultative role.

Legislative authority will be transferred to parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Representatives, which has yet to be elected.

Ahmed Fawzy, secretary-general of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, which is part of the leading leftist and liberal coalition the National Salvation Front, said that legislative power should have been assigned differently.  

"Legislative authority could have been put in the hands of the 10-member committee [to be assigned to amend the constitution] in consultation with the presidency and the cabinet," he said.

"However, still, if this happened it should have very limited legislative authority until the election of a House of Representatives."

The 30 June Front, a coalition group comprising a number of opposition political and revolutionary forces and led by the 'Rebel' campaign, expressed its rejection of many of the declaration's articles.

Front member Yasser El-Hawary told Ahram's Arabic news website that the front has serious reservations about the wide powers given to president, saying the declaration contradicts the consensus reached with political forces, including the group.

El-Hawary also criticised the “unilateral” decision to issue the constitutional declaration before being subjected to societal discussion.

Military trials

Groups opposing the declaration also attacked Article 19, which does not abolish completely military trials for civilians.

The article states that: "the military's judiciary is independent and is the only body that can rule in cases related to the armed forces and its personnel, and the law dictates its other authorities."

In the suspended constitution, Article 198 had similar wording. However, it also said that "no civilian shall be tried before military courts except in cases that harm the armed forces.” 

Eid described it as an article that gives the military judiciary an "independence that should not exist."

"The military judiciary should be a type of judiciary and not parallel to it," he said. "It is not them alone who should have the authority to say which cases would be tried before their courts."

In a statement earlier on Monday, the April 6 Youth Movement criticised Article 19, saying that it does not clearly exclude civilians from military legal jurisdiction.

Statements on the role of sharia

The first article of the temporary declaration, which talks about the state's identity, language and religion, has revived debates that have long caused disagreements between society's conservative Islamist and non-Islamist groups.

Article 1 of the declaration states that the Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic system based on citizenship, that Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language and the principles of sharia law derived from established Sunni canons are its main source of legislation.

This article combines Articles 1, 2 and 219 of the suspended constitution. The latter was added by Islamists to outline the meaning of "principles of Islamic sharia" mentioned in the second article.

This has long caused debate on the validity of stating specific religious sources for the country's legislation.

"This is compliance yet again with the ideas of extremist groups," said Nasser Amin, director of the Cairo-based Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession.

Political forces believe that the Salafist Nour Party has been exerting pressure on the presidency during the shaping of Egypt's transitional roadmap.  

The party has opposed the nominations of prominent liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei, and Ziad Bahaa El-Din, founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, to the country's premiership in the past week.  

"The [presidency] should not respond to pressures… This only emphasises more disagreement," Amin said.  

Fawzy also criticised article one as a reflection of "submission" to the Nour Party.

However, Younis Makhioun, head of the Nour Party, said on Tuesday that his party opposes the declaration because the 10-member committee that will amend the constitution will not be "elected by the people."

The constitutional declaration stipulates that the president is to form within 15 days a committee to amend the suspended constitution within a month.

The committee will be made up of six senior judges and four constitutional law professors.

Members of the committee will be chosen by the respective judicial bodies, the constitutional declaration stipulates, while Egypt's Supreme Council of Universities is to assign the constitutional law professors.

Rights and freedoms

Experts also criticised articles related to rights and freedoms in the declaration that are close to those in the suspended constitution.

Article 7 of the declaration states that freedom of expression is guaranteed, and that a person can say, write, film or use any other method of self-expression within the limits of the law.

Article 45 of the suspended constitution on freedom of expression did not include a part on the limits of the law.

"There is not a law that regulates freedom of expression," Eid commented. "This phrase obstructs freedom of expression.”

In addition, Eid criticised other articles on personal rights and freedoms that have been already opposed previously and reappeared again in the declaration.

These include articles on freedom of forming associations "that do not oppose the system of society,” a phrase which Eid labels "a mysterious expression" that impairs the essence of the right.

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