Moussa, Ashour compete for chairman of Egypt's constitution-drafting committee

Gamal Essam El-Din, Saturday 7 Sep 2013

Egypt's former presidential candidate Amr Moussa and chairman of the Bar Association Sameh Ashour to compete for heading 50-member committee

Head of lawyers syndicate Sameh Ashour and former head of Arab League Amr Moussa

A 50-member committee, tasked with writing the final draft of Egypt's constitution, is scheduled to hold a procedural meeting Sunday, led by Abdel Gelil Mostafa, head of the National Association for Change. The objective of the meeting is to elect a chairman, two deputies, and form sub-committees. The procedural meeting will be headed by the oldest member until a chairman is selected.

Egypt's former liberal-oriented presidential candidate Amr Moussa and chairman of the Syndicate of Lawyers and the Arab Nasserist Party Sameh Ashour are set to run for the post of chairman.

While Moussa has the backing of representatives of several liberal forces, such as chairman of the Wafd party Al-Sayed Al-Badawi and chairman of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party Mohamed Abul-Ghar; Ashour has the support of representatives of youth revolutionary movements, primarily Tamarod and the 25 January Coalition of Youth.

Mahmoud Badr and Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, two founders of the anti-Morsi 'Rebel' movement and members of the 50-committee, said they had nominated Ashour for the post, "because he is the most representative of the 30 June revolution's principles."

Moussa and Ashour are two members of the National Salvation Front (NSF), which is one of the groups to mobilise in support of the ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office on 3 July.

The 50-member committee is set to meet Sunday at noon in a plenary session to be hosted in the main hall of the upper house of the Shura Council.

Shura Council sources told Al-Ahram Online, "the aim of the procedural meeting is also to form four or five sub-committees, with each entrusted with revising one of the constitution's chapters."

Shura Council sources also commented that such meetings will be used to formulate the committee's internal stipulations. It is expected that these regulations will state that for an article to be passed, it must gain the approval of at least 75 per cent of the committee's total 50 members. This will give the secularists an upper hand in ensuring that some of Egypt's 2012 Islamist-backed articles on Islamic Sharia, women and press freedoms are revoked.

According to statistics released by the Shura Council's press office to Al-Ahram Online, by the end of Saturday (3 pm), a number of 47 out of the committee's total 50 members had registered their names and obtained membership cards.

Statistics also show that three members have not registered their names yet, foremost among them are Bassam Al-Zarqa, deputy chairman of the ultra-conservative Salafist party of Al-Nour; poet Sayed Hegab, and Diaa Rashwan, head of the press syndicate.

In a public statement on Saturday, Chairman of Al-Nour party Younis Makhyoun said, "the party's senior officials have been in intense talks in order to reach a decision on whether the party's representative should register or not."

The Nour party is deeply divided, with one wing led by its media spokesman Nader Bakar in favour of participating in the committee - "in order that the party not be accused of stalling Egypt's post-30 June political roadmap." However, another wing, led by the fiery Salafist preacher Yasser Borhami, is against participation, "especially after Islamists were marginalised and the committee has become dominated by a majority of secularists and enemies of Islam," he said.

Informed sources said the party is expected to reach a decision on Sunday, or just a few hours before the committee's procedural meeting.

Al-Nour is a staunch defender of retaining 2012 constitutional article 219, which was drafted by Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nour MPs to deliver an explanation of Islamic Sharia issues. The article 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."

This article faces sharp objections from secularists, who assert that it aims to impose a strict code of Medieval Islam on Egyptians.

Sunday's procedural meeting of the 50-member committee represents the second stage of Egypt's post-30 June political 'roadmap'. The first stage came to an end on 20 August when a 10-member technical committee, including judges and constitutional law professors, finalised the amendment of 2012's suspended constitution, which was drafted by a majority of Islamist forces under the former government of Mohamed Morsi.

The technical committee eliminated four controversial articles of the 2012 constitution, but said it would leave the final say to the 50-member committee. These include article 219 and three articles dealing with the electoral system, a historical article allocating 50 per cent of seats to representatives of workers and farmers in parliament, and whether or not to maintain the upper house of the Shura council.

Ali Awad, advisor to interim president Adli Mansour, asked that the technical committee stay in place to act as an "advisory group" to the 50-member committee, without having any actual voting powers.

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