Secularists to dominate Egypt's final constitution-drafting process

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 26 Aug 2013

Representatives of secular forces are expected to dominate the 50-member committee entrusted with writing the final draft of Egypt's new constitution

adly mansour
Egyptian Presidency, Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour makes his first address to the nation since taking his post after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, in Cairo, Egypt July 18, 2013 (Photo: AP)

The first stage of Egypt's post-30 June political roadmap was completed on Monday. A ten-member technical committee entrusted with amending the 2012 Islamist-backed constitution passed its draft to interim President Adly Mansour.

The committee was formed in accordance with Article 28 of the constitutional declaration issued by Mansour on 8 July, after Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted from office on 3 July.

The second stage is expected to begin within days, with President Mansour issuing a decree forming a 50-member committee representing all segments of society to write the final draft of Egypt's new constitution.

According to Article 29 of the 8 July declaration, the 50-member committee must include representatives of political parties, intellectuals, workers, farmers, unionists, and national councils.

It must also be composed of representatives of Al-Azhar, Egyptian Churches, the armed forces, police, public figures and at least ten figures representing youth and women.

Informed sources close to the ten-member technical committee revealed to Ahram Online that: "The presidency has already received the names nominated by political, religious, social and economic institutions to form the 50-member committee."

The lists show that secular forces are slated to gain a majority in the 50-member committee entrusted with completing the constitution before it is put to a national referendum.

Islamists, who dominated the 100-member constituent assembly that drafted Egypt's 2012 constitution, will be a minority.

The secularists will primarily belong to liberal and leftist (Nasserist and nationalist) factions. Islamist representatives will be confined to two forces: the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party and Al-Azhar.

The initial list of the secularist representatives will include liberals such as former foreign minister Amr Moussa, Journalists' Syndicate leader and Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies director Diaa Rashwan, and leftists such as Sameh Ashour, Lawyers' Syndicate chairman and chairman of the Arab Nasserist Party.

The list will also include Mahmoud Badr and Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, liberals representing the Tamarod movement which spearheaded the 30 June protests against Morsi.

Liberals will include Manal El-Taibi, a female political and human rights activist who withdrew from the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly in 2012 because she objected to articles imposing a strict Islamic code and violating the rights of women and children.

Liberals are also expected to include high-profile constitutional law professor Mohamed Nour Farahat, representing the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

At the top of the list of leftist members is Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, representing the Socialist Popular Current and Tagammu.

Informed sources told Ahram Online that the presidency stipulated that lawyers', journalists', doctors' and engineers' syndicates should send one representative each.

The Engineers' Syndicate is currently controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and it is unclear how its representative will be chosen, given that the Islamic group has been opposing the ongoing roadmap in continued protests against Morsi's overthrow.

As for religious institutions, sources indicated that Hassan Al-Shafie, deputy to Al-Azhar's grand imam, is likely to represent Al-Azhar. Another figure representing Al-Azhar is expected to join the committee.

Informed sources also indicated that figures representing Egypt's three main Churches (Coptic, Anglican and Catholic) will be selected as members of the committee. Anpa Pola, archbishop of the Nile Delta’s Tanta province, will represent the Coptic Church, while priest Safwat El-Biyadi is expected to represent the Anglican Church.

Major-General Mamdouh Shahin is expected to represent the armed forces, although several political activists accuse him of collaborating with Islamists while drafting the 2012 constitution.

The controversial Article 219

Nour Party will have just one representative who is expected to be party chairman Younis Makhyoun. Nour announced on Sunday that it would join the 50-member committee. 

In a statement issued on 25 August, Nour said it had decided to participate in order to defend the Islamic identity of Egypt. It added that it is against eliminating Article 219 of the 2012 constitution which defines the "principles" of Islamic Sharia referenced in Article 2. "This article (219) is necessary to reinforce Sunni Islam and stem the growth of Shiism in Egypt," said the statement.

Nour complained that "the ten-member technical committee which took charge of amending the 2012 constitution was by no means an elected body. How can an unelected body bear the responsibility of drafting Egypt's new constitution?"

Nour's statement was sharply criticised by secular forces. Prominent lawyer Essam El-Islambouli said: "Nour is by no means authorised to give a judgement on the ten-member technical committee... Let's recall that most constitution-drafting committees formed since the January 25 Revolution in 2011 were by no means elected."

"The Nour Party itself, under the Morsi regime, called for forming a committee to amend the 2012 constitution," he added.

El-Islambouli also said: "Article 219 is a mean of delivering an interpretation of Islamic Sharia but it rather helps Islamists impose a strict form of Islam on Egyptians."

Secular political activists, he added, believe "Nour's decision to join the 50-member committee is just a tactic."

Tamarod's Badr said: "We believe this Islamist party will eventually withdraw from the committee when it finds that most forces are in favour of removing Article 219. It will then exploit this withdrawal to stigmatise the new constitution as reflecting secular and anti-Islam values."

The Freedom and Justice Party newspaper – the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood – came out on Sunday, alleging that: "The new constitution will give liberals and secularists the right to insult Islam and spread immorality."

Injy Hamdi, a founding member of the April 6 Movement, on Monday asked: "How can a religious party whose members refuse to stand up while the national anthem is playing, incite violence against Shias, and support codifying the marriage of children, be allowed to join the constitution-drafting process?"

Badr said: "Secularists and revolutionaries will never allow Islamist forces – such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Nour – to impose their medieval viewpoints on the new constitution."

El-Islambouli argued that: "With the exception of Article 2, which states that Islamic Sharia is the major source of legislation in Egypt, all other Islamic Sharia articles must be removed because they aim to impose a strict Islamic code on Egypt."

He noted that: "Al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, never asked the Morsi regime for an article delivering an interpretation of Islamic Sharia.”

He added: "The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar himself stressed many times that Al-Azhar is not interested in drafting any articles that give an interpretation of Islamic Sharia or even that grant its council of grand clerics a final say on Islamic Sharia matters."

Al-Azhar stressed that the Supreme Constitutional Court must be left to deliver the final say on Islamic Sharia issues.

The ten-member technical committee decided to cut Article 4 short, stripping Al-Azhar's council of grand clerics the right to have a say on Islamic Sharia issues.

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