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Egypt Constitution: Committee members warn of division - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Amr Moussa (L), chairman of the committee to amend the country's constitution speaks at a news conference, next to media spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy, at the Shura Council in Cairo on September 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Amr Moussa (L), chairman of the committee to amend the country’s constitution, speaks at a news conference next to media spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy at the Shura Council in Cairo on September 22, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Egypt’s constitution-drafting project could be plunged into chaos if committee members fail to abide by the terms of agreements reached in previous sessions, constitution committee members informed Asharq Al-Awsat.

The 50-member constitution panel is currently in the process of voting on amendments to the controversial 2012 constitution drawn up by an Islamist-dominated constitution committee and enshrined into law by the government of ousted president Mohamed Mursi when it was in power.

Constitution committee members speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that the voting sessions have witnessed some members renege on previous agreements, potentially plunging the entire process into chaos.

Another member of the constitution committee, Mohamed Sami, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that there is a move to delete text relating to the civil nature of the state from the draft constitution, even though this text had been agreed upon in previous sessions. Sami stressed that any move to renege on previous agreements will be rejected.

For his part, committee member Bishop Paula—a representative of the Coptic Church—issued a public letter addressed to committee chairman Amr Moussa on this issue. Bishop Paula related that a previous vote had seen an agreement to describe Egypt as a “civil and sovereign state” in the new constitution, being passed by a vote of 10 to 3, with Al-Azhar and the Salafist representatives objecting to the addition of the word “civil.” He added that the Church representatives were therefore surprised to see the term “civil” deleted from the final draft, “contrary to the majority vote.”

Another committee member, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said the lack of substantial text on the “civil nature of the state” included in the new constitution demonstrates “the work method and nature of consensus currently taking place within the 50-member committee.”

He added that this also applies to other constitutional articles, particularly those clarifying and explaining the “principles of Islamic Shari’a,” which may be a source of even greater contention between committee members.

In the same open letter to Amr Moussa, Bishop Paula called on the committee chair to “delete any interpretation to the term ‘principles of Islamic Shari’a law,’ including in the constitutional preamble.”

The final draft of the constitution is currently in the process of being voted on by the 50 committee members, and is expected to be completed within the coming weeks. A 75 percent majority will be needed to pass each article in the final session of voting. However, a simple majority is sufficient during the current sessions.

Presidential adviser Mustafa Hegazy said on Monday that the final draft of Egypt’s constitution is expected to be issued on December 3, adding that it would be put to public referendum in late December or early January.

Committee members expressed fears of division and fragmentation within the committee as it enters the final stage of drafting a new constitution. One committee member, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “We are afraid of opposing sides taking intransigent positions within the committee, which will affect voting in the final session. Some members, particularly the trade unionists and representatives of bodies, are giving priority to the constitutional articles that affect them without consideration for the constitution as a whole.”

The 50-member committee voted to eliminate Egypt’s parliamentary upper house in the draft constitution, establishing a unicameral legislative system if passed. The decision was passed with 23 voting yes, 19 voting against, and one abstention, while seven committee members were absent during the voting.