Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following prolonged discussions lasting into the early hours of Thursday morning, Egypt’s 50-member constitution committee was able to reach an agreement on the text of the constitution’s preamble and several controversial articles.
Committee spokesman Mohamed Salmawy announced that the members had voted in favor of drafting the constitution’s preamble to state that “Egypt is a democratic state with a civil system of rule.”
The Salafist Al-Nour Party had pushed for the removal of the term “civil” from the preamble, while also calling for the addition of a definition of the “principles of Islamic Shari’a law.”
Speaking to a press conference on Thursday, Salmawy announced that “the representative of the Al-Nour Party has not succeeded in gaining support for his demands.”
However, the spokesman rejected claims that the Al-Nour Party had only agreed to take part in the constitution-drafting process in order to try to salvage as much as possible of the previous constitution. Salmawy described such accusations as a “complete injustice” to the Al-Nour Party’s contribution to the drafting process.
“The description of Egypt as a civil system is necessary to reflect the June 30 revolution’s main slogan, which called for a separation between religion and politics,” Salmawy added.
A committee member, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the final vote on the constitution is “scheduled to begin on Saturday and is expected to end in the first week of December.”
Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, should put the constitution to public referendum within a month of receiving the final draft from the committee. The committee member said that interim president Adly Mansour could sign off on the constitution and put it to a public referendum by the end of the year.
Secular committee members joined forces with representatives of Egypt’s three churches— Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican—and Al-Azhar to reject Salafist demands to include an overt definition of the “principles of Islamic Shari’a law” in the preamble.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an Al-Azhar official informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the 50-member committee responded to the Al-Azhar representative’s request to delete the term ‘civil state’ from the constitution’s preamble.”
“This was in order to ensure that this term was not the subject of misunderstanding or viewed by some to mean ‘secular,’” the Al-Azhar official added.
Al-Azhar demanded that the term “civil state” should be replaced by the term “civil system of rule,” which was agreed by the rest of the committee.
Bishop Paula, the representative for the Orthodox Church on the committee, said that the term “a civil system of rule’ was added at the request of Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Shawqi Allam.
The latest breakthrough in the constitution-drafting process comes against a backdrop of increasing unrest in Egypt against the backdrop of a controversial protest law. Since the law was enacted last week, security forces have forcefully dispersed a number of protests, including marches organized by supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi. The Interior Ministry warned on Thursday that security forces will deal “firmly” with “illegal” protests organized by the Muslim Brotherhood.