22 Key Points in Egypt's New Draft Constitution

Analysis, posted 08.27.2013, from Egypt, in:
22 Key Points in Egypt's New Draft Constitution (Photo: Reuters)

Following days of quite debatable leaks, the first draft of the suggested amendments to Egypt’s suspended 2012 Constitution, which was effectively drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists, has finally come to light.

The proposed amendments are the result of the work of a 10-person committee of judicial experts and members of the judiciary, all chosen by the legal and educational entities they represent according to the constitutional declaration governing Egypt following Morsi’s ouster on July 3. These amendments will then be submitted for review to a still-unformed 50-person committee that would theoretically represent Egyptian society as a whole. The final say over what goes into the amendments will be, as things stand, in the hands of the 10-person committee, while the mini-assembly will mainly submit its opinions and demands, which do not appear binding according to the text of the current constitutional charter. Recent rhetoric suggests a potential drive toward further empowering the 50-person assembly to better improve the image of this being the result of a more democratic process.

This draft will be the subject of a back-and-forth race for about two months, as per the transitional charter, and significant changes will likely take place. Mainly, the most interesting dynamic to watch — other than whether or not the Brotherhood will have any official influence on the final draft — would be the relationship between the current administration and the Salafists. In the original constitution, the Salafists had effectively been at the heart of the more controversial religious-based articles, yet still signed off on June 30 and are still fully part of the current political process.

The initial impression of this current draft is that it is a significant and substantial edit of its 2012 original, rather than a monumental and groundbreaking change. It is slightly slimmer (about 40 articles were axed, many of which were of literary rather than legal effect) and brings what could be argued as some subtle improvements from a democratic perspective. Yet it still leaves much to be desired: solidification and expansion of liberties, a welcome and preset electoral system and further decentralization of the Egyptian state. This is essentially a preliminary reading of the draft and not intended to be an exhaustive analysis. The focus is on the most important aspects of what has changed and what hasn’t. 

  • Identity of Egypt: While Article 1 adds more emphasis on the indivisibility of Egyptian land (i.e., land cannot be ceded to other states and no administrative region can declare independence), it now just states that Egypt belongs to the “Arab and Islamic Nations,” dropping references to Africa and the “Asian extension,” as well as “positive involvement in human civilization.” The 1971 constitution had only stated that Egypt was a member of the Arab world and was actively working on “full unification” of the Arab world.
  • Article 2 and Sharia: The famous Article 2, mainly stating that the “principles of Islamic Sharia” are the main sources of legislation, remains unchanged, while Article 219 of the 2012 Constitution has been removed. Article 219 was a controversial suggestion by Salafists, which had elaborated on what those “principles” supposedly meant from their perspective, rather than leaving those principles open-ended. While some saw Article 219 as having no actual effect, others worried it had effectively given Article Two a more conservative and legally complicated meaning, one that effectively meant that the “laws” — rather than principles” — of Sharia would be the main source of legislation.
  • Personal status code: Article 3 retains the 2012 stipulation that Egyptian Christians and Jews should refer to their own religious laws on personal status issues. Some welcomed the article at its inception, while others were concerned it might mean further distance from the potential for a secular civil code, at least as an alternative alongside a religious code.
  • Al-Azhar: Article 4 removes the 2012 stipulation that Al-Azhar be consulted on matters pertaining to Sharia and that the state assist Al-Azhar financially. Otherwise, the Al-Azhar article, which initially aimed to establish its independence as an organization, is largely intact, and still remarkably remains at the beginning of the constitution in Article 4. The original article, though essentially formalizing a consultative role that had already been in effect for some time, raised fears that it would herald the move toward a more theocratic approach to legislation, and even the grand imam of Al-Azhar had opposed it.

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By Bassem Sabry

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