Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Since the downfall of Mubarak in 2011, former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa has been a constant presence in Egypt’s new post-revolutionary political scene. After coming fifth in the first post-Mubarak presidential election, he became a senior figure in the alliance of opposition parties that formed the opposition to President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Now he is in the spotlight once more, after being elected to head of the fifty member Committee charged with amending the Egyptian constitution, after the document passed in 2012 during the short-lived Mursi administration was suspended.
Moussa spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat under the dome of the old Shura Council building last week—shortly before the committee began voting on the draft amendments to the new constitution—about the contents of the new document, which has unsurprisingly been the source of much rumor and speculation in Egypt and abroad.
Asharq Al-Awsat: How close is the Council of Fifty to completing the constitution?
Amr Moussa: We have crossed the halfway point concerning the time allotted for drafting the constitution, which is two months. During the first month we have succeeded in all constitutional discussions and we have begun drafting and determining the final subject matter, and in a week’s time we will start drafting the final wording. Tomorrow we will discuss freedoms and guarantees of freedom. Votes will proceed first, according to the protocols that we vote on every article after having agreed upon it.
Q: So the constitution has been drafted in its entirety?
Yes, we have finished drafting the constitution. For example, there are new articles, duplicate articles, amended articles—some semantic and some substantive—and rescinded articles. The new articles plug the gaps left in the Constitution of 2012 and take into account the new circumstances, including a number of rights which were absent and other procedures relating to the special privileges afforded to the president and prime minister. As for duplicated articles, the Shari’a article, or Article 2, is copied verbatim. Those rescinded concern redundant or vapid articles, such as the one stating the power of society to elevate the culture of the people. We have amended and limited the state’s power and no longer allow certain agencies to conduct surveillance on specific groups based on their behavior.
Q: What of the problems and diverging opinions that have arisen during the Council’s work?
Yes differences exist, but this is a positive thing, because this is a part of democratic debate. A notable difference between the current council compared to its forerunner of 2012 is that the latter was almost homogeneous in thought and political affiliation. However, this council includes the left and the right, representatives of civil society, and so on. As for the diverging opinions, they were to be expected. These lend the new constitution power. It is not just a one group imposing its opinion. It is an attempt to discuss and eventually reach a reasonable, acceptable and sound outcome.
Q: Has the dispute over who will draft the constitution been resolved? And has it been decided in favor of the Council of Fifty or the Council of Ten?
The substance of the constitution will be reviewed by the Council of Ten, whereas the Council of Fifty will determine the final wording.
Q: What was the final outcome regarding the article that limits the powers of the president?
The real issue is defining and determining the powers of the president. We must have a president that understands his prerogatives and is an upstanding person. We need a president that can lead the nation, but not by himself. He is the foremost leader of the country, but he is not the only leader.
Q: So there are powers belonging to other authorities defined in the constitution that you and your colleagues are now drafting?
Yes, such as the prime minister’s office, the parliament, and the judiciary. These will not be encroached upon.
Q: What of the Shura Council? Will it be abolished?
There are differing opinions on the Shura Council. All agree that it must be abolished, but some wish to replace it with a Senate—a determined legislative body—members of which should be at least forty years old and have a graduate degree. The important part is determining the powers of the body, which would include full legislative authority in conjunction with the other house in a bicameral system.
Q: Has this impeded the Council’s proceedings?
We are suffering from an array of unsound laws that revolved around a personalized system [of rule]. Therefore, with a bicameral system, creating laws may take more time, but there is a benefit in having a Senate. I recall that in the 1940s, the Civil Law was passed with a supermajority which set it apart from contemporaneous laws. The Senate performs a specific and important duty in that it reinforces legislative legitimacy, it will not be just another chamber without a say or any powers. Thus the Senate will have specific powers, fewer members, defined authority, better oversight, and a clear legislative mandate. It will not entertain certain issues including the budget, investigative commissions, dissolving the government, and votes of confidence. It will be charged with a specific task: ensuring legislative quality within clear legislative boundaries. Add to that how Egypt has suffered under the disastrous laws of previous regimes which need to be reviewed, especially concerning the rebuilding of the country. There were many laws which granted immunities and bred corruption. The Senate will be able to review these laws.
Q: Do you have a preference on this issue? Do you favor abolishing the Shura Council and establishing a Senate?
I am with the majority that calls for the abolishment of the Shura Council, and I am also with the many Council of Fifty members who support reestablishing the long disbanded Senate, which once played an important part in determining the daily life of society.
Q: Will reestablishing the Senate distract the Council of Fifty from meeting its deadlines?
We will work more and into the evenings with three sessions a day. We are capable of realizing all that Egypt needs in the state-building stage.
Q: What of the rumors that the office of the presidency is being strengthened, and that presidents will be granted a lifelong seat in the Shura Council?
There are proposals to allow former presidents to enter the Shura Council. We have not come to discuss these matters as of yet and they will not be broached in the drafting stage. As of now, they are merely proposals from a few and nothing is certain.
Q: Do you personally think the constitution will include such laws?
Some prominent figures are enthusiastic about applying this provision to the Senate, insofar as it is supposed to be a chamber of [people with] expertise and experience. Thus the inclusion of former prime ministers and presidents would be in keeping with this. In Egypt, there are no former presidents, rather there are two in prison, and those two will not be in the Senate, at least for the foreseeable future. However, there are a number of former ministers who, as long as they do not stand accused of anything, could potentially join the Senate following a unanimous vote in favor of that. But until now, all these are just ideas on the table and upon which nothing has been agreed.
Q: What about the legal immunities that are being proposed?
There is nothing new to speak of in this regard. There are known judicial and parliamentary immunities, and the only new thing concerning those is that they have been more strictly delineated. These immunities absolutely do not mean that these people are elevated above the status of citizen. These immunities are to the benefit of society and will not hinder it. They will not facilitate illicit activities or unchecked slander.
Q: Have the Armed Forces requested certain immunities, as rumored?
No, not at all. There are extenuating circumstances and some have requested temporary flexibility to address these issues, but there are no immunities or special privileges to speak of. This specific situation to which I referred is still under discussion and nothing has been finally decided.
Q: Did you meet with General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi behind closed doors to discuss certain demands, as some newspapers have reported?
What was reported in the papers was inaccurate. I have met with him several times. Calling these meetings “closed door” is misleading.
Q: Some say that you failed in your attempts to mediate the dispute surrounding the constitution’s articles of identity…
Mediation has not failed because it is still ongoing.
Q: The Salafist Nour Party is intent on preserving Article 219, which touches on the role of Shari’a in society. The have also been Christian demands that the “People of the Book” article be amended. How have these demands been met?
Truly, Nour is intent on preserving Article 219 and the church has made several proposals. The Nour Party has proposed wording for articles that concern it directly, as has Al-Azhar. As of now, they are under consideration.
Q: Do you think that these articles may cause the drafting process miss its appointed deadline?
I believe that it will be ratified soon, which would please all parties involved.
Q: What came of your meeting with the Sheik of Al-Azhar?
The Sheik of Al-Azhar is truly a learned and open-minded man. He understands the character of the Egyptian people, Muslim or Christian. Speaking with him enlightened me and I hold the great Imam in high regard.
Q: Has the matter of the civil identity of the state been resolved?
It was agreed upon that government will be civilian in nature, not religious.
Q: What is the truth regarding the involvement of reserve members of the Council of Fifty in the Council’s operations, and the disputes surrounding this?
They participated in the early discussion and drafting stages. We are now moving into the final drafting and voting stage and only members of the Council of Fifty participate. However, we will occasionally hold general meetings which reserve members will attend so that they are kept abreast of proceedings and can air their opinions. The Council of Fifty will draft the wording, then the Council of Ten will review it and present it in its final form. It will then return to the Council of Fifty for a final reading and vote.
Q: And all of these procedures will only take a month?
Q: Where is Egypt now and where is it headed?
The current chaos hints at several things, one of which is that there is a design to push the country into the abyss. Another is that the people and society have reached their limits because of the events that threaten their lives and security. The third is that the state is not alone in confronting the culprits, for society as a whole stands with it. We constantly hear of citizens who suffer from violent demonstrations. This will all be put a stop to soon, along with the assaults, chaos and violence. Society has begun to reject these negative demonstrations and the state is reclaiming its authority.
Q: Former President Mohamed Morsi is scheduled to be tried on November 4, and Brotherhood-led acts of violence are expected to accompany this. Do you expect an escalation that could impact the political changes the state is currently undergoing?
I hope that does not happen. I hope that the trial is transparent and just, as it would be for any citizen.
Q: What worries you?
Worry is best contained by realizing the goals of the roadmap for political transition, and therefore we aim to finish the constitution on schedule, in addition to parliamentary and presidential elections. This will give the country the stability it craves and will allow us to move from a transitional phase to one of stability.
Q: How do you feel the government has performed in light of the accusations of mismanagement?
The cabinet has many members who are fulfilling their duties, such as the ministers of housing and urban development, industry and trade, and foreign affairs. I hope that the outcome of their labor pleases the people.
This interview was originally conducted in Arabic. It can be read here.