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Egypt's constitutional committee takes shape - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A handout photograph made available by the Egyptian Presidency Press Office on 19 July 2013 shows interim Egyptian President Adli Mansour during his televised speech aired 18 July, in Cairo, Egypt. (EPA/Mohamed Samaha)

A handout photograph made available by the Egyptian Presidency Press Office on 19 July 2013 shows interim Egyptian President Adli Mansour during his televised speech aired 18 July, in Cairo, Egypt. (EPA/Mohamed Samaha)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The second stage of Egypt’s contentious transitional roadmap is now underway, with political consultations taking place to see who will be included in the 50-member committee tasked with amending Egypt’s constitution.

This comes following weeks of violent unrest, with clashes between supporters of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Mursi and police and security forces, which have resulted in thousands of reported deaths.

The first stage of Egypt’s post-30 June political roadmap was completed on Monday, after the ten member committee entrusted with amending the controversial 2012 Islamist-backed constitution submitted its draft to interim president Adly Mansour. Following this step, a 50-member committee will be tasked with amending the draft and submitting a final draft to the presidency.

According to Article 29 of the 8 July declaration—which announced the transitional political roadmap—the 50-member committee must include representatives of all segments of Egyptian society, including political parties, intellectuals, farmers, trade unionists, military, police, as well as Al-Azhar and Egypt’s churches. The same article also guarantees that “10 members [of the 50-member committee] have to be representatives of youth and women.”

The makeup of the 50-member committee has drawn considerable heat in the socially and politically polarized country. The Salafist Al-Nour party—which initially backed the military coup that ousted Islamist president Mursi before turning its back on the new military-backed government following widespread violence—has reluctantly agreed to join the constitutional drafting process.

The Nour party—the second largest Islamist party in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood—emphasized that it had reservations about constitutional amendments taking place under an appointed interim president, as opposed to an elected leader. It also stressed that it would reject any amendment to controversial constitutional articles relating to Egypt’s “Islamic identity.”

Despite these reservations, the Salafist party announced: “The [Nour] party does not object to taking part in the committee of 50 to defend the right of the nation in protecting the constitution.” Al-Ahram reported that the ultraconservative Salafist party would contribute 5 members to the committee.

This second turnaround by Egypt’s largest Salafist bloc has been met by sharp criticism from Muslim Brotherhood supporters. However some analysts have seen the Nour party’s stance as an attempt to counteract the secular forces that are expected to dominate the 50-member committee.

Egypt’s Al-Ahramnewspaper, quoting informed sources close to the ten-member technical committee, revealed that the secularists will primarily belong to liberal and leftist (Nasserist and nationalist) factions, while Islamic representation will be a minority and confined to two forces, the Salafist Nour party and Al-Azhar.

The same report claimed that secularist representatives will include former foreign minister Amr Moussa, Journalists’ Syndicate leader Diaa Rashwan, and Arab Democratic Nasserist Party leader Sameh Ashour, in addition to Tamarod movement leaders Mahmoud Badr and Mohamed Abdel-Aziz.

Informed sources told Al-Ahramthat the presidency stipulated that lawyers’, journalists’ doctors’, and engineers’ syndicates should send one representative each.

Senior Azhar official Sheikh Hassan Al-Shafie is expected to represent Egypt’s oldest Islamic institute, in addition to another as yet unknown figure. Representatives of Egypt’s three main Churches (Coptic, Anglican, and Catholic) are also expected to participate.

Tamarod’s Mahmoud Badr was quoted by Al-Ahram newspaper as saying that he expects the Nour party to withdraw from the committee.

“We believe this Islamist party will eventually withdraw from the committee when it finds that most forces are in favor of removing Article 219. It will then exploit this withdrawal to stigmatize the new constitution as reflecting secular and anti-Islam values,” he said.

“Secularists and revolutionaries will never allow Islamists forces—such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Nour—to impose their medieval viewpoints on the new constitution,” Badr added.

The Strong Egypt Party, led by moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh refused to participate in the 50-member committee yesterday, claiming that the current political climate is not stable enough to amend the constitution.

In a statement released on its official Facebook page, the Strong Egypt Party stressed that they will not participate in the constitutional committee as “constitutions should be written in a politically and socially stable atmosphere in order to reach the minimum level of compatibility.”

Aboul Fotouh—a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who remains ideologically aligned with the group—stressed that the current political climate is “filled with hatred, revenge, and a clear social divide after Egyptian blood has been shed.”

The newspaper of the Freedom and Justice party—the official mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood—condemned the constitutional amendment process, claiming that “the new constitution will give liberal and secularists the right to insult Islam and spread immorality.”