50-member committee bans torture, guarantees freedom of belief

Ahram Online, Saturday 30 Nov 2013

Racing to meet a 3 December deadline to prepare a new constitution for the country, the 50-member committee started Saturday making decisions on 246 articles finishing 138 by mid-evening; work on the draft resumes Sunday

Egypt's 50-member panel tasked with amending Egypt's Islamist-drafted constitution begin voting on each of the 247 articles of constitutional amendments, in the Shoura Council, Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 (Photo: AP)

The 50-member committee approved all articles related to powers of parliament (articles 101-138) before adjourning for Saturday night.

The Panel is scheduled to finish the vote with articles related to the powers of the presidency on Sunday at 3pm.

The 50-member committee writing a new constitution for Egypt had approved all articles in the third chapter of the draft on rights, freedoms and duties (articles 51-93) shortly after 7pm.

The committee had approved around 5:30pm 50 out of 246 articles in the final draft of a new constitution for the country.

The electronically-administered vote started at 4:20pm after a one-hour delay.

Chapter Three Done

Members overwhelming called for freedom of belief as an absolute right, banning of all forms of torture and full equality for all citizens before the law. However, the panel stipulated some restrictions on the right to protest.

Article 52: Torture in all its forms is a crime without a statute of limitations.

Forty-four members, all of those present at the time, approved the article.

Article 53: Citizens are equal before the law; they are equal in rights, freedoms and general duties. There should be no discrimination based on religion, faith, sex, ethnicity, race, color, language, disability, social class, political affiliation, geography or any other reason.

Discrimination and incitement to hatred is a crime punished by the law. The state is obliged to take appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination. The law regulates the forming of an independent commission for this purpose.

Thirty-eight voted for, five voted against.

Article 64: Freedom of belief is absolute.

Thirty-six voted for, three abstained from voting, eight voted against.

Article 65: Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed and every human being is entitled to express his/her views verbally or in writing, by photography, or any other form of expression.

Forty-three voted for, five voted against. 

Article 70: Freedom of journalism, printing and publishing in all forms is guaranteed; every Egyptian has the right to own and issue newspapers and to establish audio and visual media.

Newspapers are to be issued after notifying the authorities, in accordance with the law.

The law regulates procedures for establishing and owning media entities.

Article 71: Censorship, confiscation, suspension, or closure of Egyptian media is prohibited. During times of war or public mobilisation, exceptional censorship is possible.

The deprival of freedom is not applicable for crimes related to publishing. However, the incitement of violence, discrimination or defamation of individuals is punishable in accordance with the law; defendents are legally obliged to financially compensate those harmed.

Article 73: Citizens have the right to hold general meetings, marches or protests, or any form of peaceful protest, without carrying any weapon and upon notifying the authorities of planned demonstrations in accordance with the law.

The right to hold peaceful private meetings is guaranteed with no need for prior notification, and security forces are not allowed to attend, monitor or eavesdrop.

Article 74: Citizens have the right to form political parties after notification, as required by law.

Political activities, or the establishing of political parties based on religion or discriminating against gender, ethnicity, confession or geography is prohibited.

Activities violating the principles of democracy, or of a paramilitary nature are banned. 

Political parties can be dissolved by a court verdict.

Before the break

After finishing a vote on the first chapter of the constitution on the principle foundations of the state and chapter two on the principle foundations of society (economic and social articles), the 48 members of the committee adjourned for a half-hour break.

The committee started the vote by unanimously approving the draft's preamble.

The preamble states that the new constitution aims to contribute to an Egypt based on democracy and equality, building on the traditions of the country's great revolutions of 1919, 1952, 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013.

Amr Moussa, the head of the 50-member committee - which has been amending the suspended 2012 constitution - announced late on Saturday afternoon the start of the session to vote on a new national charter for Egypt.

The members are expected to cast their votes item by item on 246 articles in two back-to-back meetings, Mohamed Salmay, the official spokesperson of the committee, said earlier on Saturday.

The vote will last for at least 24 hours. The proceedings are aired on state owned TV Sout El-Shaab.

The draft included 42 articles that have never been included in any previous Egyptian constitution, Salmawy added.

Moussa opened the voting marathon at 4:20pm by reading the draft's preamble.

First Chapter Done

All articles in the first chapter, 'The State', were passed by the members. 

The following articles were among those listed in the first chapter regulating state structure in the final draft of the constitution:

Article 11: “The State is committed to achieving equality between women and men in all the rights stated in this constitution. The State is obliged to take the necessary measures to ensure the appropriate and balanced representation of women in parliaments and local units, as organised by the law, and enable them to reconcile the duties of family and work, and protect them from all forms of violence. The State is committed to providing special care for motherhood and childhood and women who are poorest and most in need."

This article was rejected by the Salafist Nour Party in an earlier draft session. The Islamist party argued that the phrasing would open the door for a women's quota in parliament.

Thirty-six members voted in favor of the article, six against and three abstained from voting.

Article 2: "Islam is the state religion, Arabic is its official language and the principles of Islamic Sharia law form the main source of legislation."

The Nour party was reluctant to approve the article in earlier sessions, demanding the removal of 'principles'. The Islamist party's suggestion would have legislated a stricter application of Sharia law.

The article was voted against by 2 members, while 45 approved it.

Article 9: "The state is obliged to provide equal opportunities for all citizens, without discrimination."

Forty-six members approved, while two abstained.

Chapter Two Ready

The committee had finished voting on Chapter 2 of the constitution, which includes articles 7 to 50.

All 48 members of the constitution-amending committee present Saturday voted yes to article 18 of the new constitution, which allocates a specific proportion of the government's budget - three percent or more of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - to the health sector.

The article stipulates that the allocation will be gradually increased until it reaches parity with global equivalents.

47 out of 48 members voted yes to article 19, which allocates a certain quota of public expenditure - four percent of GDP or more - to the education sector.

47 members voted on article 38, which mandates the imposing of progressive taxes on income. Six voted no, three abstained and 38 said yes.

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