Continuing EgyptSource’s constitutional coverage, in this installment we look at the the projected timeline, statements made about the referendum, debates over whether or not to draft a new constitution or amend the existing one, debates over the identity articles in the constitution, and the Salafi Nour Party’s involvement in the committee.
To see part I of our roundup which includes information on the constitutional committees, selected key figures, sub-committees, bylaws and procedures, please click here. Keep up with all of EgyptSource’s constitution roundups here.
Nour Party Participation
As the only Islamist party involved in the constitution drafting process, the Nour Party is acutely aware of the position of power it is in – lending legitimacy to the process by giving it the air of inclusion. The Nour Party’s involvement, however, has been anything but smooth.
There are near-daily reports in which the Nour Party is either threatening withdrawal from the committee, or vowing not to withdraw even if its proposals are rejected. Statements have been issued saying that they will not withdraw if there is national consensus, that they will withdraw if the identity articles are altered (and will mobilize their constituents to vote against the constitution), that they will welcome Al Azhar having the final say on the identity articles, and that they would be willing to compromise on the identity articles. To date, it is unclear where exactly the Nour Party stands.
On September 16, then Nour Party representative Bassem al-Zarqa withdrew from the session in protest over how the meeting was run. Zarqa accused certain members of “excluding views” from the discussion. Zarqa later withdrew from the committee, allegedly for health reasons, and was replaced by Nour Party leading member Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour.
The Nour Party is also campaigning outside of the committee for six articles to be kept from the 2012 constitution – Articles 2, 11, 43 , 44, 81 and 219, which we will look at in detail below.
Salafi Call leader Yasser al-Borhami, the group from which the Nour Party stems, has accused the committee of attempting to weaken the country’s Islamic identity.
With the Nour Party the only Islamist party involved in the constitutional process, the Muslim Brotherhood was quick to announce that they will mobilize to vote against the draft in the upcoming referendum.
On September 10, the Salafi Call’s Yasser Borhamy said that if in the referendum, the constitution receives less votes than was counted in last year’s referendum, the 2012 constitution should be reinstated.
Amending the 2012 Constitution or Drafting a New One?
From day one, the constitutional committee has debated whether to amend the existing 2012 Constitution, or draft an entirely new one. After about three weeks of debates and discussions, the issue has yet to be resolved, but a legal team is currently studying the possibility of issuing a constitutional addendum that will allow for the writing of a new constitution. Sameh Ashour, the head of the National Dialogue and Community Outreach Sub-Committee, has said that the committee is also communicating with the presidency over this issue.
Mohamed Salmawy, spokesperson for the committee, has said that the majority of the committee supports the move to draft a new constitution. The ultra-conservative Salafi Nour Party is opposed to drafting a new constitution, saying that it violates the roadmap. The Nour Party has been the strongest advocate of drafting the existing constitution, particularly out of concern over the so-called ‘Identity Articles,’ they gained in the passing of the 2012 constitution. Speaking about the suggestion, party member Abdullah Badran said,“We didn’t participate in the panel to draft a new constitution, only to modify it.”
Identity and Religious Articles
The so-called “Identity Articles” are Articles 2, 3, 4, 81, and 219. In the ten member committee’s amended draft, articles 2 and 3 remain as they were in the 2012 constitution, Article 4 and 81 were modified, and Article 219 was removed. Articles 43 and 44 are also listed below due to their importance to the Nour Party.
Article 2: In both the 2012 constitution and the amended draft, Article 2 states that Islam is the religion of the state and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation.
Suggested changes to Article 2: The Nour Party has suggested that the word “principles” in Article 2 is removed, or Article 219 reinstated. In the 2012 Constitution, Article 219 defined the principles of Islamic Sharia as “general evidence, foundational rules, rules of jurisprudence, and credible sources accepted in Sunni doctrines and by the larger community.” The Nour Party has said that it would both leave this final say on this issue to Al Azhar, but also that the party is standing by their decision of either altering Article 2 or maintaining Article 219.
Saadeddin Al-Hilali, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, supports the removal of Article 219, saying that the article “does a lot of injustice to Islamic Sharia itself because it imposes a strict code of Islam, or rather creates a kind of religious dogmatism on society.”
Article 3: In both the 2012 constitution and the amended draft, Article 3 states that the principles of the laws of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation regulating matters pertaining to personal status, religious affairs, and nomination of spiritual leaders.
On September 15, Youm 7 reported that the majority of the members of the constitutional committee’s Primary Fundamentals Sub-Committee suggested amending article 3 to read “Egyptian non-Muslims” instead of “Egyptian Christians and Jews” – taking into account other Egyptian minorities such as the Baha’i community. The sub-committee includes two Azhar representatives, one of whom heads the committee, and two church representatives.
Opposition to changing Article 3: Among those within the committee rejecting the proposal are the Nour Party representative and al-Azhar’s representatives. Al Jama’a al-Islamiya, who do not have a representative in the committee, said that the change to the article would open the door to laws that allow incest and same-sex marriage. Grand Mufti Shawky Allam and the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Bishop Armeya also opposed the change. The Azhar Grand Sheikh, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, has also expressed reservations over amending Article 3. Politicians who support maintaining Article 3 in its 2012 form are Mohamed Abul Ghar (Egyptian Democratic Party), Nabil Zaky (Tagammu) and Hossam Khouly (Wafd Party). According to Tahrir, after a closed-door meeting between Church and Azhar representatives, they all agreed that the article should remain as is.
Support for changing Article 3: Among those calling for a change to Article 3 are the Coptic youth movement, Maspero Youth Union, who also do not have a representative in the committee. News had emerged that Pope Tawadros II, in a meeting with committee head, Amr Moussa, asked for Article 3 to be amended, but Moussa later denied these reports.
Article 4: In the amended constitution Article 4 states: “Al-Azhar is an encompassing independent Islamic institution, with exclusive competence over its own affairs. It is responsible for preaching Islam, theology, and the Arabic language. Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh is independent and cannot be dismissed. The method of appointing the Grand Sheikh from among the members of the Council of Senior Scholars is to be determined by law. The foregoing is regulated by law.” The amendments remove the stipulation from the 2012 Constitution which stated that Al Azhar would be consulted on all matters pertaining to Islamic Sharia.
Opposition to changing Article 4: Unsurprisingly, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam is opposed to its removal, as is Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, the Nour Party representative in the committee.
Article 43: The article on freedom of belief is now article 47 in the amended constitution and remains the same: “Freedom of belief is an inviolable right. The State shall guarantee the freedom to practice religious rites and to establish places of worship for the divine religions, as regulated by law.”
Article 44: The ‘blasphemy’ article which states, “Insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets shall be prohibited,” has been removed from the amended constitution.
Article 81: In the 2012 Constitution, Article 81 stated that “Rights and freedoms pertaining to the individual citizen shall not be subject to disruption or detraction. No law that regulates the practice of the rights and freedoms shall include what would constrain their essence. Such rights and freedoms shall be practiced in a manner not conflicting with the principles pertaining to State and society included in Part I of this Constitution.”
In the amended draft it is now Article 68, and the last line, “Such rights and freedoms shall be practiced in a manner not conflicting with the principles pertaining to State and society included in Part I of this Constitution,” has been removed. This means that rights and freedoms are not limited by the articles relating to Islamic Sharia.
Opposition to amendments to Article 81: The Nour Party is opposed to this change in the draft constitution.
In the next installment we will be looking at debates related to the role of the army and police in the constitution, as well as the debate over military trials. Keep up with all the constitution roundups here.