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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The debates over Egypt’s future Constitution continue

Egypt's Parliamentary session to elect the members
of the Constituent Assembly
Egypt’s Constituent Assembly, tasked with the drafting of Egypt’s new Constitution, is on the final stages of its work with almost 70% text of the document ready, according to Mohamed Mahsoub, Constituent Assembly member and newly appointed Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs.

The remaining 30% of the state’s Constitution are expected to be drafted in weeks following Eid Al-Fitr. So the entire draft of the Constitution could be ready in the middle of September and could be represented to Egyptian citizens for referendum, as it was stated before.
The work of the Constituent Assembly was adjourned after 16 August, and the constitutional body will reconvene its work after holidays. The Assembly’s Chairman Hossam Al-Ghiriani stated that the representatives of the Assembly do not want to waste time and are willing to finish drafting the document and present it to the public discussion and following approval as soon as possible.

Mohamed Mahsoub also stressed that the Constitution would then put up for the public referendum in the middle or at the end of October.

The process of drafting the new Constitution consists of three phases:

Mohamed Mahsoub, member of Egypt's Constituent
Assembly and Minister of State for
Parliamentary Affairs
1. All the five committees of the Constituent Assembly, tasked with the drafting of the special chapters of the Constitution, have the meetings and the hearing sessions. Then they began the drafting of each chapter of the future Constitution. Some of the committees were also divided into the sub-committees, such as the government committee (divided into two sub-committees, one of them focusing more on the administrative authorities, and the second one on the judicial one).

2. Then all the committees have to submit the initial drafts of their chapters to a special team in the Assembly tasked with the compiling of the text of the Constitution as a whole document before it will be put up for the public discussions and referendum. The document in its final form will be discussed during the plenary meetings of the 100-members Constituent Assembly. This phase is expected to be completed till the end of next week.

3. On the final stage of the drafting of Egypt’s new Constitution the first and the second reading of the Constitution by the whole Assembly will take place. These reading will be aired live on the state TV, so Egyptian will be able to follow the process and give their comments during the public discussions. Then the national referendum will be held, and after it the new Egyptian Constitution will be finally approved.
However, despite the fact that almost 70% of the draft is already written, the Constituent Assembly still faces struggles within it over some very important issues. All those debates make the process of writing the document difficult within such a short period of time.
Among the most debated and questionable issues is the point relates to the regulation of the HCC (High Constitutional Court). Some of the Assembly members demand this judicial body to stay independent as it was before, and some other member in their turn state that it should be included in a chapter dealing with judicial authority as a whole, without specifying the status of HCC. There is still no agreement about this issue among the members of the Constituent Assembly.

The sessions of Egypt's Constituent Assembly
Another issue which still provokes a lot of debates is the Article 2, which states that “Principles of Islamic Sharia law are the main source of legislation in Egypt”. The ultraconservative Salafists insist that should be “Sharia law”, not the principles of it. But such a position is strongly opposed by the secular and liberal forces. Till now the text of the future Constitution declares that the principles of Sharia law are the main source of legislation.

The issue of local administration and governing was another point of disputes in the Assembly. Ahmed Zaki Abdeen, Egypt’s Minister of Local Administration, recommended that the provincial governors should be elected by the citizens and not appointed by the President and government. He stressed that after the January 25 Revolution the democratic changes have to occur and Egyptians have to elect their governors and not to tolerate the governors came by selection. The opponents of this proposal in their turn noted that the local governors are the part of the executive branch of power and that’s why they must be chosen and appointed by the President after the consultation with Egypt’s parliament.

So there are still some points not clear in the process of drafting the new Constitution, and the debates are ongoing. But the members of the Assembly expect the consensus will be reached.
Egypt’s new Constitution is expected to be also longer that the previous one of 1971. The total number of the Constitution articles could reach 250 (there are 211 articles in Egypt’s 1971 Constitution). The new Constitution will be longer, because the powers will be divided more carefully between the branches of power: President, Parliament, Government and Judiciary. The Constituent Assembly member Mohamed Mahsoub also stressed that there is consensus between the Assembly members that the new Constitution should reflect the January 25 ideals of freedoms and liberties.