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Campaign to issue new Egypt constitution gathers different momentum

Political forces to ask president to change 8 July declaration so that it calls for writing new constitution rather than amending 2012 version

Gamal Essam Eldin, Tuesday 24 Sep 2013
The 50-member committee
The 50-member committee (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Representatives of liberal and leftist forces serving on the 50-member constitutional committee said on Monday that they will launch a "public opinion" campaign to ask that interim President Adly Mansour change his constitutional declaration issued on 8 July.

The liberal representatives are calling on Mansour to modify his 8 July declaration so that the 50-member constitutional committee is tasked with writing an entirely new constitution, rather than simply amending the 2012 version drafted by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly.

Article 28 of Mansour's July constitutional declaration originally gave the 50-member committee a mandate to amend the now-suspended 2012 constitution.

According to Mahmoud Badr, a founder of the Tamarod (Rebel) movement that spearheaded the 3 July removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, his group, in addition to other political forces, are in the process of opening communication channels with President Mansour to address the issue.

"In order to close the door to any appeals that might be filed against the legality of the current constitution-drafting process, we ask that interim President Mansour change his 8 July constitutional declaration so that when citizens go to vote in a national referendum they know that they are voting on a new constitution, rather than an amended one," Badr said on Monday during an address to the National Dialogue sub-committee and female representatives of the National Council for Women (NCW).

Badr's remarks came after a number of NCW activists declared that "the 2012 constitution must be radically changed, especially with regards to those religious articles that discriminate against women."

Sekina Fouad, a high-profile writer, echoed Badr's call, saying "as an advisor who is very close to President Mansour, I and others plan to ask him to change his 8 July constitutional declaration."

"President Mansour is above all a man of law, and he is aware of the necessity to amend the declaration in order to protect against possible appeals regarding the legality of amending the 2012 constitution," Fouad added.

Fouad argued that although the 50-member committee is in the process of changing the 2012 constitution "as a whole," a new declaration is needed to support these efforts.

According to Fouad, the 2012 constitution is a religiously-oriented national charter.

"Islamist forces began turning Egypt into a religious state shortly after Egyptians revolted against the former regime of Hosni Mubarak in 2011

"When Egyptians were asked to vote on a constitutional declaration in March 2011 calling for parliamentary elections ahead of constitution writing, Islamists took the matter as a battle between believers – those who voted 'yes' – and infidels – those who voted 'no'," said Fouad, adding that "this division has ultimately led up to the promulgation of a religious constitution in 2012."

Also joining the fray, National Dialogue sub-committee and lawyers syndicate chairman Sameh Ashour argued that "when Egyptians turned out in the millions on 30 June, they were revolting against the regime of Muslim Brotherhood, its constitution, and its president."

Ashour indicated that the subcommittee would launch a "public opinion" campaign to convince Mansour of the change. Pointing to a survey conducted by the subcommittee, Ashour said that representatives from several sectors of society strongly support an outright ban on the formation of religious parties, in addition to the elimination of Article 219 and other "Islamist" articles.

"We need to write a new constitution, not just polish the image of the 2012 version," said Ashour.

According to deputy chairperson Mona Zulficar, the 50-member committee worked on some significant changes to the constitution this week. In particular, Zulficar says Article Three, which gives "Christians and Jews the right to exercise their religious rites," will most likely be changed to give all non-Muslims the right to practice.

Article Three currently states that "For Egyptian Christians and Jews, the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership." If amended, the article will begin with "For all Egyptian non-Muslims."

Zulficar also indicated that most members are in favor of amending Article One to state that Egypt is a civilian state.

"The word "civil" is important to stress, for Egypt is neither a religious state, nor it is governed by a religious or military state," said Zulficar, adding that a "civil state" also means that "state authorities are not above the law and that the state is governed by the rule of the law."

Zulficar explained that while Al-Azhar, Egypt's leading institution for Sunni scholarship, proposed changing Article One to say that "Egypt is a civil constitutional state," the ultraconservative Nour party rejected the word "civil."

Zulficar stressed that Egypt as a "civil" state necessarily entails the banning of religious political parties.

"Political parties are established to obtain power by peaceful means, and not to exercise religious activities," she argued.

Zulficar pointed out that Article 54 of the new constitution drafted by the initial 10-member technical committee stresses that "Political parties cannot be established on religious foundations."

According to Zulficar, this article lacks the necessary teeth to guarantee that parties are not formed on a religious basis.

However, Zulficar believes that once the constitution is passed, new legislation "designed to regulate the performance of political parties and ensure that they do not perform religious activities" will impose the necessary measures to "help religious parties adjust themselves to get in line with Article 54, or face dissolution." 

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