Full transcript of the October 21 event hosted by the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East featuring His Excellency Amr Moussa, president of the Egyptian Constituent Assembly, via Skype from Cairo to discuss the latest developments in Egypt’s constitution writing process.

Fred Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council

Michele Dunne,
Vice President and Director,
Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East,
Atlantic Council

Amr Moussa,
Egyptian Constituent Assembly
(via video teleconference)

Washington, DC

Time: 12:00 p.m. EDT
Date: Monday, October 21, 2013

MICHELE DUNNE: Welcome, everyone. I think – I think I know all of you, but for anyone I don’t, I’m Michele Dunne. I’m the director here at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East here at the Atlantic Council.

So welcome to this teleconference with His Excellency Amr Moussa, who I see has now joined us.

So I’ll turn it over to our CEO, Fred Kempe, to get us started. Let’s make sure that he can hear us.

FRED KEMPE: Your Excellency, can – Your Excellency, can you hear us now?


MR. KEMPE: Yes, are you able to hear us?

MR. MOUSSA: Yes, indeed.

MR. KEMPE: OK, good.

Good. So let me get this started. I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Council. Your Excellency, I think we met years ago when I was in my guise as being the editor and associate publisher for The Wall Street Journal in Europe and the Middle East.

We want to especially thank you, Your Excellency Amr Moussa, for taking the time to speak with us today. As you all know around the table, His Excellency has served as secretary-general of the Arab League, as foreign minister of Egypt and is now chairing the 50-member constitutional committee in Egypt as the president of the Egyptians’ Constituent Assembly.

Your Excellency, Egypt, its direction, the course of this Constituent Assembly has importance that goes far outside of Egypt’s borders. And that’s why everyone is watching this, not just in your country and the region, but really around the world. During this time of upheaval, with an attack on a Coptic church and a car bomb attack on a military intelligence headquarters just this last weekend, both the constitutional drafting process and the content of the new constitution are immensely important.

We have a very good group of experts here around the room. As I understand it, this event is on the record. Let us know, Your Excellency, if you would like that. Otherwise, that’s my understanding.

We have been operating the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East for 2 ½ years. Focus on Egypt has really been – and the transition states of the Arab states has been really at the center of everything we’re doing here. And it’s my great honor to turn it over to the Atlantic Council vice president and Rafik Hariri Center director, Michele Dunne, to get us started and then to pass to you, Your Excellency.

MS. DUNNE: Thank you very much for being with us today, Your Excellency. I understand we have about an hour with you. And I also want to thank the Embassy of Egypt for facilitating this event.

Your Excellency, we’re eager to hear from you about the constitution. The latest thing I saw is that the 50-member committee which you head is now moving to secret balloting, article by article, on the revised constitution, although as I understand, there are still some articles that are not finalized and that voting perhaps will go forward until early December. So we are eager to hear from you about the process by which the constitution will be revised and passed and also by what you see as the principal issues, issues that have already been decided and which are the main things that have yet to be decided regarding the new constitution.

So I welcome your comments, Your Excellency. And then if you have time, we would like the people in this room to be able to ask you questions because we do have a very well-informed group.

MR. MOUSSA: Well, thank you very much for inviting me, for allowing for this opportunity to talk together about the situation we have here. But first of all, I wish to tell you that we are in the midst of a very substantive debate about the constitution and its articles. We haven’t started yet the process of voting, but we are going to do that within a week or so.

Now, the situation, as was referred to by our colleague, the previous speaker – yes, indeed, we have – we have met with a lot of challenges. The constitution, of course – this process is being done, is being processed in accordance with the road map, the road map which presents the – a promise for the future. And that’s what we need to work for and to produce a constitution that responds to the needs of all Egyptian citizens, regardless of religious, of political positions or political opinions, and that would cater to the future.

Now, we have many challenges. We have a wave of terrorism that was referred to by our colleague. We have to face this danger not only by security measures but by opening the door for future action and the – offering or introducing a constitution that would contribute chiefly to the stability, security and advancement of Egypt.

So we have a mandate of two months, two working months. We have just completed the first month with the general debate and process of – a drafting process, discussion of the sections, the chapters, the articles. We intend to start tomorrow, to make the first reading, then next week and the week after, put articles into vote. We hope that by end of November, we will have completed the constitution and presented it to the president, in preparation for the referendum that would follow within two weeks or so.

The game here is the change. Egypt is in a process – in a deep process of change. And the main point, the main goal is to apply democracy. Democracy – in my opinion and in the opinion of so many Egyptians, democracy is the solution, and democracy that would advance the country and not a democracy just to jump and grab the power and then push Egypt into adventures or into a situation that would look to the interests of the Egyptian people, and in particular, the next generations.

I am optimist, very optimistic about the future, and I know that Egypt waits for this constitution that would provide them with their rights – protection of their rights, a strong government and a process that would open the door for economic progress, for security and for the stability of the future Egypt.

Now, of course, I would welcome questions, and I’m ready to answer the questions of the members who would wish to address. But we are now heading for a different future than what we suffered in the past, weak governments, a dictatorship, pulls and push in so many directions. Now, after the revolution of January 2011 and the other revolution that completed the first one that came on the 30th of June, you want to have a government that represents the people, a government that understands, appreciates the fact that we live in the 21st century and that this century has its requirements and that Egypt was – which was on the (inaudible) of collapse is going away from the edge and rebuilding its institutions. We will do that.

And we have the capabilities to do that, not only – not alone, but with the cooperation of friends, and in particular the United States, that we hope would understand the predicament of the Egyptian people with bad governments and wrong priorities and denial of democracy.

These are our goals: democracy, justice and a process that will bring up Egypt to the 21st century and to cater to the next generations, young people that form 60 percent of our population.

MS. DUNNE: Thanks very much, Your Excellency.

I’m going to take the privilege of the chair to ask you the first question, and then I’d ask people to please, if you have questions, just put your tent card up so that I can see you, and you can ask your questions.

My question, Your Excellency, is that from what we – what we read here in the Egyptian press, among the issues that have still not been resolved in the draft – in the amended constitution, several relate to the role of the military. For example, whether military trials will be permitted for civilians and under what circumstances, what the process will be of appointing the defense minister and so forth. So I was wondering if you could, please, give us a flavor of what are the current debates and conversations inside the committee on those issues.

MR. MOUSSA: Well, thank you very much, Michele.

The items or the articles concerning the institution’s judicial authority, the army, the other institutions, they’re all under consideration now, including the articles concerning the army. The principle concerning the civilian population and their relations with the army, the minister of defense and so on, they’re under serious consideration and not only consideration, but also talks with the authorities concerned. That we need to be very clear about the right of all civilians to have the – their judges – the system – the judicial system to be their system to judge them. And here we are in a serious discussion about that, but I believe that the (outcome ?) would be very clear about the rights of all civilians to have their own natural judge to judge them.

The – as for the army and the role of the army, if there are certain crimes against it – that concerns the army personnel. In specific cases, we are going to consider case by case whether this requires a certain special system or not, but we have not yet reached any conclusion on that. But our position is very clear about the judicial system and the rights of all citizens to have their own normal process of judgment of crime to be the – upholding to the constitution and – (inaudible).

MS. DUNNE: OK. Thank you.


Please – and please introduce yourself. He may not be able to see you.

Q: I wonder if you can talk about the state of the article concerning election. We’ve heard some reports that there’s going to be – there’s a proposal to go back to an election system, which would be by district only. Are you – are you still – can you tell us where that stands?

MR. MOUSSA: Will you say it again, please, because it was not clear? Just say it again.

Q: Could you talk – could you talk about the article on elections, on how parliamentary elections will be conducted? Is there going to be a district-by-district voting system or could you still have party votes?

MR. MOUSSA: Yes, we are considering the system – electoral system – to be district-by-district. But there are parties that have requested to consider an electoral system to depend on the lists. The idea or the opinion is divided. And we – but the support or the majority seems to be in favor of district-by-district. But this is until this moment, although there a lot of lobbies, in particular the political parties that do prefer the list system rather than the constituencies – or individual constituencies.

I believe there is the – what we expect is to have a mixed system for once – for the next – the coming parliamentary elections, part of it constituency-by-constituency and the other part by lists. But those are still just proposals to be discussed tomorrow and until next week in order to produce the majority or the consensus. If not, then we’ll have to vote on it, either constituency-by-constituency or a mixed system between lists and constituencies.

MS. DUNNE: (Off mic.)

Q: What is the outlook of the constitutional committee on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression? As you know, there is – the president is currently considering a law that would sharply restrict freedom of assembly, especially in relation to demonstrations in front of government buildings and other areas designated by the government. I’d actually like to know how the committee is considering this particular issue; and also, just considering civil society in general, what the outlook of the committee is on guaranteeing the right of Egyptians to freely associate not only with each other but with international organizations.

MR. MOUSSA: Well, thank you very much. The – (inaudible) – simply is very clear in favor of the right of free expression and freedom (of elections?). What the government is doing is one thing, and the discussions and the Constitution that will be there with us for years to come or decades to come. So it is a matter of principle for us about the freedom of expression, the freedom of demonstrations, the peaceful demonstrations. And this is the essence of the revolution. The revolution was the result of the freedom of expression by all people, whether they like their government or they dislike their government. I don’t think we are going to go back on that. The Constituent Assembly is very precise on it: freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the peaceful expression of views. So I want to assure you that the Constituent Assembly will be very adamant on those rights.

MS. DUNNE: OK. Thank you.

Q: One of the features of the mass media in Egypt over the course of the recent past has been very destructive media messages towards civil society. In the context of this larger question of how in the – going forward you intend to safeguard the space for civil society and its integrity, could you share your thoughts on how the mass media is dealing with this?

MR. MOUSSA: I must tell you that I am one of those who believe in the role of civil society. And as I said in my first answer, that we want to produce a constitution that caters to the 21st century. And our new life in our world depends, in large part of it, on the activities of the civil society, which I do support. And in fact, it commands a lot of support within the Constituent Assembly that I preside.

I want to tell you that what has been done in Egypt, the mass media position, the way we dealt with it, or the governments that dealt with it in the past, will not be reflected in the Constitution. The new – (inaudible) – freedom of expression and in favor of civil society organizations, and guarantees for their work as a force to reckon with in rebuilding the country, in rebuilding Egypt. So this is the difference between this draft Constitution we are working on and the past Constitution that we indeed were not – in our majority as Egyptians, were not really satisfied with, because, in fact, it dealt in a negative way with this aspect of national life, civil society. Civil society is part of building the public opinion in our new life in Egypt. That’s what we want to have. So insofar as the freedom of a situation at the civil society role, regardless of the recent practices, this is a look to the future. That’s what we are doing – not to rest with the shackles of the past.


Q: For one month now since the Constituent [Assembly] start its work, I didn’t read anything in the news about the local governorates. You know, one of the problems that Egypt have, that’s around centralization of power within the capital and within the presidency. So is the committee considering decentralization of power and power-sharing with the governorate, like, you know, electing, you know, the governors, electing the mayor in the village? Thank you.

MR. MOUSSA: Thank you. This is a very good point concerning the decentralization of the government in Egypt. This is a principle that I have stood for very strongly in my campaign when I was a candidate for the presidency, decentralization of the government in Egypt.

Now, this draft constitution is dealing with that point in a way that is much better than before, but I am not yet satisfied with the degree of decentralization or the general plan of decentralization. But certainly understand, and the members of this assembly do understand that the local governments, on the level of villages, on the level of small towns, on the level of big towns, on the level of governorates of, like, the states in the United States, they must have their own parliament and process, their democratic process, but because of the history of Egypt as a country that they’re very centralized, the first centralized country, now we want to do – to undo this and have a decentralized system, this could not be achieved by way of shock – that tomorrow we will decentralize the central government.

But we are going to build a process that, within a few number of years, we will have a democracy based on a democratic process that’s coming from – down from villages to small cities, to cities, to the capital. And we must do that. As he just said, the decentralized system is one of the hopes and one of the new things that should be introduced in no uncertain language in the new constitution. I hope that myself and all those who support this idea there will prevail.

But anyway, the constitution is going to deal with that point and the beginning of a process of decentralization will appear clearly in the draft constitution.

MS. DUNNE: Your Excellency, to follow up on [the last] question, after the 2011 revolution, one of the changes that Egyptians were talking about was specifically the election of the governors, the provincial governors, rather than presidential appointment. But it did not appear in the 2012 constitution. Is there a chance that will be in the new constitution?

MR. MOUSSA: There is a chance that there will be a reference to the election of governors in the future and as a result of a process that should start today by electing the mayors of villages and cities and then move to elect the governors. I believe that the decentralization plan will not really materialize unless or only when we decide to elect the governors. This will come. And the constitution will provide for that process to start, but I am not promising that we can decide to do that tomorrow as the first thing to do after the constitution. But it will be mentioned that governors should be elected and according to a process, a gradual process and time frame. I hope that this will be the case, and I believe that there is a possibility, a good possibility for us to achieve that.

MS. DUNNE: Thank you.

Q: Thank you. Your Excellency. My question relates to the media. You talked about bringing Egypt into the 21st century and having a constitution that reflects the sort of more modern ideals, I suppose. What is the Constituent Assembly position or is there a current debate on the status of the state media? Is this something that will continue in the new Egypt, or is there talk of dismantling and privatizing or otherwise at least allowing for an independent, not having any sort of government sector controlled media? Is that part of the discussion?

MR. MOUSSA: It is certainly part of the discussion, freedom of press, and not only of press as printed, but the freedom to own, to publish. And as you know, Egypt for so many decades had only government newspapers. Now you know that we have so many newspapers and TV channels that are privately owned. Therefore, today it is a mixed system. There are three or four newspapers that are owned by the general sector or public sector, or government, if you want. But they are not alone now. Now the most popular newspapers are those who are privately owned. And I believe that this process, that has produced a successful press, private press, is going to prevail.

We cannot continue, in the 21st century, to have newspapers owned by the government. The process has started, and I trust that you know that. And you know that the most influential newspapers today, that do contribute in the formation of the public opinion, are privately owned. This trend is going to continue. And I think – and I think what you know – that the most – not only the most successful newspaper but the most successful – (inaudible) – TV channels are those who are privately owned. The process of privatization and successful privately owned media has already started and very active today in Egypt.

MS. DUNNE: OK, thank you.

Q: Yes, Your Excellency. I wanted to ask you, the most, probably, significant change in the last constitution was the reinforcement of the Muslim identity in the Egyptian constitution. And my understanding is, of course, from what we’ve seen in the news and other places, that there is so intense debate about these very controversial articles. And I was wondering if you could give us a picture of how that debate is shaping out, what these articles – what state are they in at this time.

MR. MOUSSA: Well, I promise you that there will be controversial articles in this constitution. This constitution will be very clear dealing with rights, with obligations, within the role of government, the role of the civil society. This is a real departure of the spirit and the text of the previous constitution of 2012. Identity will be clear. But it will be done in a very reasonable and firm way. The government has to be a civil government. The system has to be a parliamentary system. Freedoms, rights, women, and all those important issues will be different than the previous constitution.

However, I must tell you that the identity of Egypt according to the Egyptian mood and what Egyptians look for and hope for will be preserved. For example, Egypt is part – Egypt is an old nation. It is part of the Arab nation, part of the Islamic world, a part of the Mediterranean society of nations, part of Africa. We have a multiple and complicated identity, but it will not be one identity. It will not be a narrow identity, but identity that reflects the real position – past, present, and future – of Egypt. We are Arabs – we are Egyptians, we are Arabs, we are Africans and we are Mediterraneans. This is very important.

And there is no denial that the majority of Egyptians are Muslims, but the rule that will be underlined, emphasized in this constitution is citizenship. You are a citizen of Egypt regardless of your religion, your color, your job, your political affiliation. This is a very distinct thing that will be reflected very strongly and clearly in the draft constitution we are writing.

MS. DUNNE: Thank you, Your Excellency.


Q: Thank you very much. Your Excellency, one of the notable features and, indeed, negative features of the 2012 constitution, from a rights and freedoms perspective, and indeed of the 1971 constitution as well, was that on the one hand the text would grant and assert and enshrine certain rights and freedoms. And then elsewhere in the text, those same rights and freedoms would be limited very severely by language that would refer to implementing laws or as defined by the law or so on and so forth.

And for Egyptians who want a constitution to protect democratic rights, this was a troubling feature. Do you expect the same kind of approach in the new constitution –


Q: — or a different – a different type of language that will enshrine those rights more firmly? Thank you.

MR. MOUSSA: Thank you. There will be a different type of language. The references to the – who will arrange or organize things are reduced, reduced markedly. The language and the direction of the previous constitution will not be the same. There is a marked change in the language, in the articles, in the direction of the new constitution compared to the previous one.

MS. DUNNE: OK. I invite more questions from the floor.

Q: As you were drafting the constitution, we also know that the government is working on laws to govern civil society organizations, protests and anti-terrorism laws. And so are you working with the drafters of those laws to make sure that nothing in those laws contradicts what will be in the constitution?

MR. MOUSSA: Oh, no, we are not working with the government in the process of those laws. But what is essential is that what we are going to include in the constitution will have to be respected by the government the moment the constitution is approved by the referendum. The freedoms, the rights and all the articles of the constitution that is now under consideration and under – and the drafting process, will have to govern the behavior of the government and of all citizens or all institutions in Egypt, the moment the constitution is adopted.

Now, I want also to emphasize that we are in the midst of a very serious challenge by terrorist organizations or by terrorist individuals. And they are really terrorizing the population. The security actions will have to be active in order to face up to the challenge of terrorism. And you know – you, in the United States, you know what terrorism means and the challenge of terrorism. We will have to stand firm against this kind of terrorism, but this should not affect the rights of people or influence the writing of the constitution.

That constitution is for the future, not only for today but for tomorrow, after tomorrow and for 10 years, 20 years, which we suppose also that there will be stability and there will be security. We will not need to be in constant war against terrorism. This terrorism, I hope, will be defeated. And very soon, in order for us to look to the future and build a peaceful process for the development of our country – (inaudible) – economic development, a very reasonable degree of security for the population, and at the same time political stability and democratic process.

MS. DUNNE: Your Excellency, let me ask a follow-up question. So you’ve just been articulating that Egypt is in the midst of a special challenge – a terrorist challenge. And a few minutes ago you said, for example with decentralization, that there might be some things in the constitution that would be phased in.

There have been hints in the Egyptian press that there may be other things in the constitution that are temporary provisions or things that – you know, perhaps related to dealing with the terrorist challenge, that there might be temporary provisions dealing with the perquisites of the military or military trials or other issues. Do you expect that? Do you expect the constitution to contain temporary provisions that deal specifically with the security challenges of today?

MR. MOUSSA: No, Michele. The constitution is not a policy paper. A constitution is a basic document of principles and regulations that would organize the life of the people. We have nothing to do – the constitution or the assembly is not part of the campaign against terrorism. But we are all suffering from terrorism. This is the role of the government. And we do support what the government is doing in order to rid the country of terrorist organizations or individuals. But this has nothing to do with writing the constitution. And the provisional articles have nothing to do with this.

MS. DUNNE: OK. Thank you.

Q: Your Excellency, I was wondering if you could address the issue of civilian oversight over the military, both the national armed forces and the interior ministry – specifically not only at the executive level, but what powers will the parliament have in terms of their oversight functions? Thank you.

MR. MOUSSA: Well, let’s be very frank and also practical in that approach. The civilian oversight and the future government or future actions, future policies will depend a lot on the constitution and on the actual policies of Egyptian successive governments – the governments to come – in order to build a truly and fully democratic country. Some actions towards democracy will have to be taken today as elections, the freedom of elections, freedom of press, the role – the principle role for civil society, et cetera.

But there are certain other things – other tests that will have to be taken gradually. The constitution will have to allow for such gradual approach on the road towards democracy. So I promise you, there are certain things that will be taken today – actions that will be taken today in order to accelerate the pace or open the door for a democratic system. But there are a lot of other steps that will have to come this year, next year, in three years’ time, in four years’ time. This is a process – as you know, Michele – this is a process not only – not an event that you want to just do and finish with today.

We – this constitution will have to allow for a process – a continuous process of modernization, democratization, basic rights, human rights, women’s development, et cetera. In order to be practical. I cannot promise you that we will include that today and finish with it today or tomorrow. We have to open the door for a viable process that will bring us and bring Egypt to a fully democratic system with the oversight by the civilian political forces and so on. This is the thing that we are hoping for. As you are hoping for this, I am hoping for this, and all of us – most of us in Egypt are hoping with this.

MS. DUNNE: Thank you. Any other questions from the floor or I’ll – then I’ll ask another question, Your Excellency. One of the concerns of, you know, observers watching the constitutional reform process has been the relatively small presence of Islamists on the committee. I think – if I understand it correctly, Your Excellency, I believe there are two. There is one from the Nour Party and one from the Muslim Brotherhood, or a former Muslim Brotherhood member on the 50 member committee.

And the question is this, the 2012 constitution ultimately faced a great deal of opposition because many people felt excluded from the process or had – even had resigned along the way, secularists felt excluded from the process that – by which the 2012 constitution was finalized and passed. So the question is, is the – does that same risk face the new constitution, the revised constitution, that however good the text, if there are a significant number of Egyptians who feel that their representatives – their views were not represented in this process and this draft. Could you please give us an idea of how you – how you see this, what your approach is to this issue?

MR. MOUSSA: Well, thank you. The previous constitutional assembly that produced this constitution of 2012 was very lopsided with the majority – vast majority of certain specific parties. And the rest was indeed a minority. This time, we are only 50. And there are 10 of the religious background. And if we count the representatives of the church and the Coptic – the Coptic population, I would say that there are 15 of them out of 50. The other parties – there are liberals, there are socialists, there are women’s organizations, there are et cetera – so the 50 are really divided between several trends. This is the main difference. There is no overwhelming majority for one side or one party or one trend, but it is divided between 10, 10, seven, 12 et cetera.

So the constitution of the assembly is different. There is no power that could prevail on the other. We have, indeed, to lobby, and I’m very happy with that. I spend most of my time sitting with groups of four or five, two or three, trying to convince them, or they are trying to convince me, that to take this or that action or that – use this language or this formulation. This did not happen in the previous assembly.

The previous assembly was a kind of a imposition of the majority of almost 90 members out of 100. They are 100 and we are 50. So this time the distribution of forces is very balanced between several trends. So we have to convince each other and to reach compromises, try to put a language that would command the approval of several trends. And this is – this makes our task indeed difficult but also very productive and very modern.

So I cannot say that I have decided this. I can’t say so. Or I cannot claim that the majority is in favor of this. I cannot say so. We have to talk to each other, lobby each other. Your philosophy of lobby that you created in the United States is being applied today in Egypt, and I’m so happy with this because it gives us a kind of active life that you cannot just go home and sleep and say, ah, I now can say that we have decided.

So, no, until this moment I cannot tell you that we have decided anything finally, decisively. We have to continue working, continue lobbying each other. This is good – good for the spirit of building democracy and building the spirit of compromise.

MS. DUNNE: Your Excellency, could you discuss for us the process going forward, both within the committee and then what sort of public conversation and debate and education process will take place before a referendum and so forth?

MR. MOUSSA: Well, the work has started as follows: Three working groups working under the articles on the freedoms, on the rights, on the system of government, and one major committee working on hearings. So from day one –

MS. DUNNE: Hearings?

MR. MOUSSA: Hundreds of hearings – hearings.

MS. DUNNE: In public or –

MR. MOUSSA: In public of course – public.

MS. DUNNE: Public – OK.

MR. MOUSSA: Every day committees are working drafting, and another committee is listening or hearing or receiving people. And I myself divide my time, as chairman of this assembly, working in the drafting committees and the debates, the internal debates, or meeting with people, the last of whom were the people of special needs, which will have their – we realize that we have 10 million people of special needs.

So we have to cater to their interests. They came in waves to talk about their predicaments and their rights and what – and their hopes. And indeed the constitution will reflect their needs and will call on the government, or decides that the government should do this and that in terms of meeting their needs – also people from the poor areas, the functionaries in several institutions, private and public.

You can’t imagine this wave – this wave after wave after wave of poor population coming to make their voice heard, to the extent that sometimes the building, which is a huge building in the center of Cairo, has been like a Tahrir Square, who are just bumping into each other. People are coming because they understand that this is – this is their chance to talk loud, and on the TV – the TV is broadcasting that every day, that which I said that – now, from next week it will be only drafting, so there will be no TV. We’ll draft off-camera. Now we are hard working on it. So the population, all the population, is following, day by day, what Mr. X or Mrs. X are saying about this or that issue.

MS. DUNNE: Thank you.

Q: Your Excellency, I was wondering if you could just comment quickly on the mood of the constituent assembly regarding the article on the establishment of religious parties, or parties based on religion, what the mood is on the – in the assembly and what that might mean for the Nour Party and other parties.

MR. MOUSSA: Yeah, the mood is that no partition will be based on religious basis, that it has to – it has to have political goals, political plans, political propositions for a better Egypt. So I think that the – I believe that the constitution will include an article in that direction.


Q: I have a question concerning the influence that the Ministry of Defense, specifically General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, over the work of – the work of constituency.

As I heard from the – from the news, there was a joint – you know, a subcommittee, a joint subcommittee between, you know, the civilian and the military representing the constituent trying to reach to a settlement concerning the army – the army-related article in the constitution. And the conclusion that this subcommittee, you know, reached to its – we’re going to – we’re going to go to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, you know, to – (inaudible) – this – to this debate or this controversy over the military article in the constitution.

And it’s a recent voice leak by the Blue Muslim Brotherhood – (inaudible) – General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi clearly said that, you know, he wanted the people who are drafting the constitution to grant him – or to protect his status in the constitution. So can you – can you give us some reflection over the – you know, the –

MR. MOUSSA: Look, this is untrue. General el-Sisi did not ask us to include anything concerning himself or his role or his position. Yes, I read that in some newspapers and I was really amazed how people would go as far as inventing things. So there is nothing of that kind. Again, there is nothing of that kind, neither by way of demand, request, or by way of acceptance or of drafting. That’s number one.

Number two, yes indeed there are subcommittees or working groups that brings together representatives of the Army and representatives of the committee of 50. This is the lobby I was talking about. Yes, they are trying to talk to us about certain issues pertaining to the budget, et cetera, as the judges are doing, as the – all other groups are doing.

This is – I do not deny that. Yes, indeed, they are talking to us. We are talking to them, as we are to all other branches of our society, but nothing has been done by way of pressing: You should do so. Never. This did not happen. That is what we see about that. And we can sympathize with this demand, of course the other demand. And this applies to all. All those who came to lobby us found some acceptance and some opposition, and some proposition that, ‘Let us sit and see what we can do on this point.’ Yes indeed we are very active in this, but there is nothing of that kind that Mohamed has mentioned that the constitution is going to grant the commander in chief a certain immunity. No, this is not true.

Having said that, I would get back to the question of Michele about the number of religious representatives in the – in the committee. I understand – I was even told that the party of the Muslim Brotherhood, called the Freedom and Justice Party, was approached: Are you – are you in a position to send representatives to this committee, to this assembly? They declined. However, there is one of them who is sitting in the committee and others who sympathize with them.

MS. DUNNE: OK, thank you.

Q: You mentioned a two-week period between the conclusion of voting and then the initiation of the referendum, and I’m wondering if you can expand a little bit about the public outreach and the public education – (inaudible) – Egypt, as we all know, has a very high rate of illiteracy, and making sure that people understand what they’re voting on often requires a bit more time in that environment. Also, there have been media reports about the referendum being open to out-of-country voting and whether or not that process is proceeding along separately.

MR. MOUSSA: Yeah. Well – thank you. The – we have a mandate of two months, which we interpreted – and the interpretation was accepted – that what is meant by two months is two working months without the weekends or the official holidays. So we have until perhaps the second or third day of December. We hope that will be intense work that we have done and are still doing to be able to produce a semi-final text by – before mid-November in order to finalize it within a week and be in a position to present it to the president of the republic in time or before that time. That is our hope. That’s number one.

Number two, for the public overreach (sic), as I explained before, the sessions, hearing sessions, the – open for proposals, for papers, for drafts that come from several directions to the – put before the committee. And this process is working five days a week, with four or five successive sessions a day. That’s the hearing process.

As for the illiteracy, yes, indeed, it is a problem. But I want to assure you that those illiterate people who don’t know how to read or write, they know their interests. The Egyptian farmers, very old farmers, they know what they want. And they came and talked about that, about their fate and how the successive governments denied them their rights and they don’t offer them any privilege or advantage or even ameliorate their fate, their way – their way of life. They were very eloquent in expressing their views and in expressing what they hoped that the constitution would bring them, would provide them with.

So illiteracy is one thing, and the Egyptian citizen, old as they are, and a lot of accumulative experience, they may have been very eloquent in talking about the rights. Of course, it is a drawback, it is an obstacle, the question of illiteracy. But the constitution will have to address their interests. And we are not alone in this. When you go to many other major countries in Africa or in Asia, they met the same obstacle, but they succeeded in producing a constitution that really caters to the interests of all those people, illiterate or literate, rich or poor, farmers, workers or any other group of people.

As for the Egyptians abroad, yes, I just finished a meeting before coming to talk to you with a delegation from Egyptians abroad. We are contemplating a certain number of – a certain number of seats to represent for them. And now Egypt has over or around 10 million people abroad. We cannot deny them this right to be represented one way or another. Should they be elected? Should they be selected? Should they be appointed? How can they run for elections if they wish to do so, and under what conditions? What are the guarantees, et cetera? So yes, indeed, Egyptians abroad are one of the issues that are being discussed very intensively now within this assembly.

MS. DUNNE: Your excellency, if I – if I am remembering the transition road map correctly, so we’re looking at perhaps the constitution being approved by the assembly in early December and then perhaps a referendum later that month, public referendum. And then after that, two months after that, perhaps parliamentary elections –

MR. MOUSSA: Parliamentary elections.

MS. DUNNE: And then a presidential election after that. Do you – do you expect that? There has been some talk about whether the order of those things or timetable would be changed. That’s one question.

I would also like to ask if you could step out for a moment from your role as president of the constituent assembly and speak instead as a political figure in Egypt. You yourself founded a political party and also ran for president. How, when Egypt does get to parliamentary elections, how do you expect the political scene and the parties to be running and so forth? What do you expect it to look like? How do you expect it to be different from the first parliamentary elections that were held in early 2012?

MR. MOUSSA: Well, for the first part of your question about the road map, yes, indeed, there are voices that are calling for some change here or there. But I don’t think there will be any change in the road map. The constitution, parliamentary elections, presidential elections, a new president, a new parliament, a new government and we move on, end of the transitional period. So this is the plan. And I don’t think any use, any – that changing the road map now at this stage would serve any useful purpose. So it will remain the same, and it is better to have it that way.

As for the – how the next – the coming parliament would look like, well, it is still in the air. I – in my contacts with the parties, they are very hopeful that they would fight a real battle and bring several members into the parliament. Some would say that it will be a hung parliament, no majority for any one party – that perhaps it will be – (inaudible) – to resort to these coalition policies, et cetera. So I really don’t know, but I don’t think that the next parliament will be like the previous one, which was – which had a majority of religious parties; this will not be the case.

MS. DUNNE: OK. I think we have time for one more quick question.

Q: I just wanted – following up on the road map question, has there been a plan developed for if the referendum does not pass? I realize that’s very unlikely, but –

MR. MOUSSA: Once you are in a democratic system or you want to build a democratic system, you have to get ready for all possibilities. But I hope that we will be able to pass this constitution because everybody in Egypt is waiting for the constitution and want to have this constitution as quickly as we can in order to be able to push – to move to the future.

And by the way, this referendum will be conducted, as I understand, with the supervision of many international organizations, European Union, et cetera. And the hope is that we will be able to pass the – this constitution with a very comfortable majority and perhaps, as some hope, a huge majority.

MS. DUNNE: Your excellency, we’re – we realize that we’re I believe through the hour that you promised to spend with us. I thank you very much on behalf of the Atlantic Council, the Hariri Center and all the participants here for giving us this time and being willing to hash through all these issues with us. Thank you very much. We really appreciate it.

MR. MOUSSA: Thank you again, and thank for the – thanks – my thanks go also to the Atlantic Council and the Hariri institution. Thank you very much.

MS. DUNNE: Thanks very much.

MR. MOUSSA: I enjoyed talking to you. It was very useful. Thank you.

MS. DUNNE: Bye-bye. (Applause.)