Technical committee to propose radical changes to Egypt's 2012 constitution

Gamal Essam El-Din, Sunday 18 Aug 2013

Informed sources tell Ahram Online that Egypt's 2012 constitution, drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, will be fundamentally changed

constitutional assembly
File photo: Members of the constitutional assembly attend a session at the Shura Council building in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (Photo: AP)
A 10-member technical committee entrusted with amending Egypt's 2012 constitution has almost finished its task. The committee was formed under Article 28 of the constitutional declaration issued by Interim President Adly Mansour 8 July and is headed by Mansour's legal advisor, Ali Awad.
In a press conference Sunday, Awad told parliamentary correspondents that the committee will finish its work Monday, with the new draft constitution expected to be announced Wednesday. The new constitution will form the bedrock of Egypt's new post-30 June revolution's political roadmap, aimed at turning the country into a fully democratic state under civilian rule.
Sources close to the committee told Ahram Online Sunday that after almost one month of thorough revision, the committee's members concluded that "fundamental changes must be introduced to 2012 Islamist-backed constitution."
“The 2012 constitution was drafted under the former regime of the Muslim Brotherhood to grant Islamists an upper hand and a final say in Egypt's political future, and this must be changed now," a committee source told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity. He added that "When the people revolted 30 June, their main goals were not confined to removing Mohamed Morsi from power, but also changing the fundamental pillars of the religious tyranny the Muslim Brotherhood regime tried its best to impose on Egypt."
Within this context, the source revealed that members of the committee reached consensus that the new constitution must impose a ban on political parties based on religious foundations.
This would mark a return back to Article 5 of 2007's constitutional amendments introduced by the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. It stated that, "It is not permitted to pursue any political activity or establish any political parties within any religious frame of reference (marja’iyya) or on any religious basis or on the basis of gender or origin."
The committee source said, "The return to the 2007 constitution's Article 5 was necessary after we saw that dozens of political parties were clearly formed on religious foundations and that their main objective was to turn Egypt into a religious state."
The source explained that "the anticipated ban gained momentum after the committee received requests and proposals from more than 400 political, economic and social institutions, pressing hard for the necessity of safeguarding Egypt against Islamist factions trying to change the civil nature of the country into a religious oligarchy."
The source, however, argued that "as a return back to a constitutional article that was drafted by the Mubarak regime is expected to stir up a lot of controversy, the new constitution will keep Article 2 of 2012's Islamist-backed constitution — which states that Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation — in place."
Chairman of the committee Ali Awad told parliamentary correspondents last week that Article 2 on Islamic Sharia will be retained "in order to stress the Islamic identity of Egypt." 
The article, however, will be primarily maintained so as not to give a reason to Islamist factions — especially the ultraconservative Salafist party of El-Nour — to boycott the next stage's of the political roadmap. Chairman of El-Nour Younis Al-Qadi warned last week that "the party would withdraw from the upcoming political process if it found out that the articles stressing Egypt's Islamic identity were revoked from the next constitution."
According to the source, most political institutions have recommended that "if it is necessary to keep the Islamic Sharia article in place as a nod to Islamists like El-Nour, it is by no means necessary to maintain the 2012 constitution's separate article (Article 219) that delivers an interpretation of Islamic Sharia."
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party and a member of the National Salvation Front that helped lead the 30 June revolution against the regime of Mohamed Morsi, told Ahram Online that "while Article 2 on Islamic Sharia was first instituted by late President Anwar El-Sadat in 1980 and has never faced objections from most political forces since then, it is by no means plausible to turn the constitution into a religious national charter by filling it with as many Islamist articles as possible." "Article 219 leaves Islamic Aharia clearly hostage to medieval interpretations that could give legitimacy to the ideology of Islamist radicalism and jihadism," Abul-Ghar argued.
Article 219 of the 2012 constitution states: "The principles of Islamic Sharia include its generally-accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules, and its widely considered sources as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa."
Committee sources also told Ahram Online that there is a general tendency that "the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, would be scrapped." "Most political factions also press for the elimination of this council, which was exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies over one year to impose their Islamist ideology on the country," the source said, adding: "Not to mention that this council cost the state budget too much money at a time of severe economic crisis."
Joining forces, Abul-Ghar told Ahram Online that "since it was created by late President Anwar El-Sadat to strike a chord with his Islamist foes in 1980, the Shura Council has been always exploited by successive regimes to impose hegemony on the Egyptian press and exercise political monopoly." The Muslim Brotherhood was no exception. The group exploited its majority in the council in 2012 to "Brotherhoodise national press institutions and the state-owned Radio and Television Union (known as Maspero) and gain legislative powers to Islamise society."
The 270-member Shura Council costs the state budget almost LE150 million a year. The Public Funds Prosecution (PFP) is currently investigating complaints filed against the council's deposed chairman, Ahmed Fahmi, accusing him of squandering LE3.7 million on Muslim Brotherhood deputies, footing the bills of their visits to regimes sympathetic with the group, such as Turkey, Qatar, Libya and Tunisia. The visits were not part of parliamentary business, but were clearly aimed to foster links with political Islamic parties all over the world.
PFP's chairman Ahmed Al-Bahrawi said last Thursday that Fahmi and two leading Brotherhood deputies — Ali Fath Al-Bab and Essam El-Erian — are being accused of obtaining LE1 million in pocket money during their foreign visits.
Sources also remarked that there will be radical changes of articles aimed at regulating the performance of the High Constitutional Court and media institutions. "We aim to reinforce the independence of these institutions and not to face any more intimidation by ruling regimes," the source said. He also indicated that, "The electoral system is also expected to see a complete overhaul in order not to cause any discrimination against independents or come in favour of party-based candidates."
Finally, sources indicated that Article 232 of the 2012 constitution, imposing a ban on leading officials of Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), will be annulled. "High-profile judges of the High Constitution Court have always stressed that this article is discriminatory and can never be a part of an inclusive constitution," the source said, adding: "If you want to strip any segment of society of exercising its political rights, this should be instituted by judicial rulings and not by the country's national charter."
The source said: "Throughout his 30 years in office, and in spite of his deep hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak never resorted to amending the constitution to exclude this group from the political scene." "They were allowed to run as independents in parliamentary elections and they were given a strong voice in the private and independent media, which they now attack and accuse of falsifying facts. When they came to office, and part of a power grab strategy, they moved to impose a political ban on their rivals without any constitutional justification," he said.
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