Egypt’s New Constitution: As Bad as its Old One?

by Michael Armanious:

Amr Moussa, chairman of the committee tasked with amending the Islamist constitution, talked about how the new constitution guarantees that Egypt will have a “civilian government” and promote the creation of a “democratic and modern country.”

But he did not promise that it would be a secular one. Moussa asserts that the new constitution bans the creation of parties based on religion, but it gives Egypt’s theocrats-in-waiting a way to get around the ban on by allowing parties to be established on “Islamic reference”; and Article Two remains.

“In Egypt, a civil state means a modern nationalist state that is compatible with Islamist provisions.” — Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s former Grand Mufti.

Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour has set January 14 and 15, 2014, as the dates for a referendum on the country’s amended constitution.

Amr Moussa – the chairman of the (fifty-member) Committee of Fifty tasked with amending the 2012 Islamist constitution – appeared in multiple televised interviews to tell about the importance of the new amended constitution for the future of Egypt. He talked about how the new constitution guarantees that Egypt will have a “civilian government” and will promote the creation of a “democratic and modern country.” He stressed that Egypt will have no military or theocratic government. He also listed several articles that will guarantee freedom for Egyptians, including freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

A closer look at the constitution itself reveals that it is not the freedom-promoting document Moussa describes it as being.

 

Amr Moussa, pictured here at a 2013 World Economic Forum conference, says that Egypt’s proposed constitution will not allow for a military or theocratic government. (Image source: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell)

The amended constitution still includes Article Two of the previous constitution, which states that Islam is Egypt’s religion and that the “principles” of the Islamic Sharia law are the country’s main source of legislation. This clearly puts Egypt’s religious minorities, most notably the Coptic Christians, in a position of extreme vulnerability. When this was pointed out, Moussa stated that there was nothing to be done because the article had been approved unanimously by the Committee of Fifty, which included Coptic leaders. What Moussa failed to report, however, was that a Copt who served on the Committee of Fifty openly admitted on national television that he had caved into the demands of Islamists who want to turn Egypt into an Islamic theocracy.

Retaining Article Two is not the only problem with the constitution. It also places Egypt’s military beyond civilian oversight, rendering the phrase “civilian government” meaningless. This condition is a huge problem: Egypt’s armed forces have amassed an enormous and independent economic empire which includes gas stations, banquet halls, construction operations, factories, and vast tracts of land. Consequently, Egyptian generals are the feudal lords of modern Egypt; their underlings are their squires and scribes, and those outside the military are turned into defenseless peasants.

This arrangement is solidified by another part of the constitution that allows Egyptian civilians to be tried in a military court. In an effort to allay fear over this, Moussa stressed that civilians can only be tried in a military court in specific kinds of cases – when someone attacks a military buildings or equipment, for example.

But Major General Medhat Radwan Gazi, chief of military justice, contradicted Mr. Moussa. Gazi confirmed that disputes between civilians and the operators of military owned-businesses could be settled by a military court to protect the officers or soldiers who work and manage these businesses.

Gazi also said that there is no difference between an officer defending the country in a tank or pumping gas or managing a gas station. They are all officers of the armed forces, so any dispute with the public will be tried in military court. In sum, the proposed constitution entrenches a modern-day system of feudalism in the land of the Nile.

This plan is a disaster. Egypt has been under military rule for over 61 years, and emergency laws have been used for over 32 years of its recent history. Thousands of civilians have been tried and convicted in military courts for all kinds of charges. Gazi confirmed that the armed forces will continue governing Egypt for the foreseeable future.

One would think that in exchange for cementing the status of Egypt’s generals as modern-day Pharaohs, the new constitution would at least protect Egyptian citizens from an onslaught of theocratic extremism. It does not.

Moussa asserts that the new constitution bans the establishment of political parties based on religion, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, but it gives Egypt’s theocrats-in-waiting a way to get around this ban by allowing parties to be established on “Islamic reference.”

What is the difference? So far, 11 parties have already followed this path, including the Hizb El-Benaa Wa El-Tanmia, and the Al Nour Party.

Read more at Gatestone Institute

 

Egypt’s Challenge: Writing a New Constitution

Members of Egypt’s constitution committee meet at the Shura Council for the final vote on a draft Egyptian constitution in Cairo. (Reuters)

Members of Egypt’s constitution committee meet at the Shura Council for the final vote on a draft Egyptian constitution in Cairo. (Reuters)

by Ashraf Ramelah:

“Egypt is now a real civil state. It is not theocratic, it is not military. It is democratic, free, constitutional, lawful and modern.” — Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, after his election.

Democracy is unfathomable because it allows the doctrine of Islam, and its followers, to co-exist equally with other religions and doctrines — a societal demotion. That outcome cannot possibly be the one desired by those now drafting Egypt’s constitution.

As Egyptians wait for the constituent assembly to produce the country’s new foundational document, the world can only speculate as to how well the new draft will distinguish Egypt’s future from its past. Article 2 of Sadat’s 1971 constitution is the controversial point today. If its wording is written into the draft of Egypt’s new constitution, all hope is lost for a modern renaissance sought by the uprising of January 2011. Article 2 spells out two critical foundational points which clash with the formation of democracy. Even if these Islamic measures are accompanied by words promoting liberty, equality and human rights elsewhere in the same writing, the use of Article 2 will present a huge problem for the liberal, secular, pro-democracy freedom movement.

Egypt is likely to receive a draft of the constitution, due before the end of this year, comprised of both liberal elements and Article 2 (or its essence). The explicit language of Article 2 states, since 1980, that the religion of the state is Islam and Sharia (Islamic religious law) is the source of state legislation. This substantiates a religious state. If Article 2 is transferred to the current draft, it will mean that the draft of the constitution draft is unsuccessful for the third time since Egyptians rebelled against authoritarianism and religious supremacy. Would this be a signal for the continuance of Egypt’s already two-year old revolt against a political class using religion to accrue power?

The greatest contributor to the making of Article 2 and its formation of the deeply rooted Islamic state was former President Anwar Sadat. While Sadat’s constitution promised free markets, individual freedom, democratic procedures and safeguards for an independent judiciary; other buried clauses granted his presidency complete power, and he used it to appropriate exclusive ownership of the state for Islam. In 1971Sadat replaced Egypt’s 1954 constitution, moving the country away from the policies of socialism enacted by his predecessor, Nasser. Sadat used the help of Islamists who influenced the populace against socialism in accordance with Islamic beliefs. In return, Sadat added pro-Islam clauses to Egypt’s constitution, making Islam the state religion, Arabic the official language and Sharia a source of Egyptian law (later changing “a source” to “the source”). As such, Sadat encouraged Islamists to lay claim to Egypt.

The key to Sadat’s success was “Islamic duality” — a political doctrine of deception based upon the Hadith [tales of the life of Muhammed] and the Sira [Mohamed’s biography] in which the Prophet teaches that to advance Islam, it is permissible to lie in three cases: to a wife, to a friend and to an enemy. We shall likely see this again with the forthcoming constitution. Envision the following scenario. Upon receiving the draft, Egyptians will wait for constitutional experts in the media to fully explain and challenge it in the period of time between its issuance and the popular referendum vote to approve it. The populace will be incapable of comprehending the full implications of the extensive fine print inside the sugar coating of human rights and freedom-sounding words. Meanwhile, assembly committee members assigned to write separate draft sections will hawk their special wares to the country, selling Sharia and selling democracy.

Read more at Gatestone Institute

Technical committee to propose radical changes to Egypt’s 2012 constitution

File photo: Members of the constitutional assembly attend a session at the Shura Council building in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (Photo: AP)

File photo: Members of the constitutional assembly attend a session at the Shura Council building in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (Photo: AP)

By Gamal Essam El-Din:

A 10-member technical committee entrusted with amending Egypt’s 2012 constitution has almost finished its task. The committee was formed under Article 28 of the constitutional declaration issued by Interim President Adly Mansour 8 July and is headed by Mansour’s legal advisor, Ali Awad.
In a press conference Sunday, Awad told parliamentary correspondents that the committee will finish its work Monday, with the new draft constitution expected to be announced Wednesday. The new constitution will form the bedrock of Egypt’s new post-30 June revolution’s political roadmap, aimed at turning the country into a fully democratic state under civilian rule.
Sources close to the committee told Ahram Online Sunday that after almost one month of thorough revision, the committee’s members concluded that “fundamental changes must be introduced to 2012 Islamist-backed constitution.”
“The 2012 constitution was drafted under the former regime of the Muslim Brotherhood to grant Islamists an upper hand and a final say in Egypt’s political future, and this must be changed now,” a committee source told Ahram Online on condition of anonymity. He added that “When the people revolted 30 June, their main goals were not confined to removing Mohamed Morsi from power, but also changing the fundamental pillars of the religious tyranny the Muslim Brotherhood regime tried its best to impose on Egypt.”
Within this context, the source revealed that members of the committee reached consensus that the new constitution must impose a ban on political parties based on religious foundations.
This would mark a return back to Article 5 of 2007’s constitutional amendments introduced by the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. It stated that, “It is not permitted to pursue any political activity or establish any political parties within any religious frame of reference (marja’iyya) or on any religious basis or on the basis of gender or origin.”
The committee source said, “The return to the 2007 constitution’s Article 5 was necessary after we saw that dozens of political parties were clearly formed on religious foundations and that their main objective was to turn Egypt into a religious state.”
The source explained that “the anticipated ban gained momentum after the committee received requests and proposals from more than 400 political, economic and social institutions, pressing hard for the necessity of safeguarding Egypt against Islamist factions trying to change the civil nature of the country into a religious oligarchy.”
The source, however, argued that “as a return back to a constitutional article that was drafted by the Mubarak regime is expected to stir up a lot of controversy, the new constitution will keep Article 2 of 2012’s Islamist-backed constitution — which states that Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation — in place.”
Chairman of the committee Ali Awad told parliamentary correspondents last week that Article 2 on Islamic Sharia will be retained “in order to stress the Islamic identity of Egypt.” 
The article, however, will be primarily maintained so as not to give a reason to Islamist factions — especially the ultraconservative Salafist party of El-Nour — to boycott the next stage’s of the political roadmap. Chairman of El-Nour Younis Al-Qadi warned last week that “the party would withdraw from the upcoming political process if it found out that the articles stressing Egypt’s Islamic identity were revoked from the next constitution.”
According to the source, most political institutions have recommended that “if it is necessary to keep the Islamic Sharia article in place as a nod to Islamists like El-Nour, it is by no means necessary to maintain the 2012 constitution’s separate article (Article 219) that delivers an interpretation of Islamic Sharia.”
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party and a member of the National Salvation Front that helped lead the 30 June revolution against the regime of Mohamed Morsi, told Ahram Online that “while Article 2 on Islamic Sharia was first instituted by late President Anwar El-Sadat in 1980 and has never faced objections from most political forces since then, it is by no means plausible to turn the constitution into a religious national charter by filling it with as many Islamist articles as possible.” “Article 219 leaves Islamic Aharia clearly hostage to medieval interpretations that could give legitimacy to the ideology of Islamist radicalism and jihadism,” Abul-Ghar argued.
Article 219 of the 2012 constitution states: “The principles of Islamic Sharia include its generally-accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules, and its widely considered sources as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa.”
Committee sources also told Ahram Online that there is a general tendency that “the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, would be scrapped.” “Most political factions also press for the elimination of this council, which was exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies over one year to impose their Islamist ideology on the country,” the source said, adding: “Not to mention that this council cost the state budget too much money at a time of severe economic crisis.”
Joining forces, Abul-Ghar told Ahram Online that “since it was created by late President Anwar El-Sadat to strike a chord with his Islamist foes in 1980, the Shura Council has been always exploited by successive regimes to impose hegemony on the Egyptian press and exercise political monopoly.” The Muslim Brotherhood was no exception. The group exploited its majority in the council in 2012 to “Brotherhoodise national press institutions and the state-owned Radio and Television Union (known as Maspero) and gain legislative powers to Islamise society.”
Read more at Al Ahram

Morsi Constitution Modification will Sabotage Pro-Democracy Efforts

20121213_morsi_yelling_-_LARGEby ASHRAF RAMELAH:

Adly Mansour, Egypt’s Interim President, has chosen to begin Egypt’s conversion to democracy by reinstating and modifying ousted President Morsi’s controversial 2012 Islamic Shariah constitution. Finalized just five months ago and widely rejected by Egyptians (more than 70 percent) but somehow approved through a referendum vote, this dream-come-true for Islamists was the leading cause of Morsi’s overthrow.

Remember as well that a historic verdict by Egypt’s judiciary dismissed the constitutional assembly working on the 2012 constitution draft because the assembly was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi mainly interested in a religious agenda.

This time around, there is no debate that Egypt must have a new constitution before elections are held. This is a good sign. However, using Morsi’s constitution indicates that religionists and possibly terrorists are already at the table. Compromises at this level to please Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, and jihadists show a disregard of the commitment to honor the Egyptian goals of liberty, equality, and human rights.

Building on a foundation of religious bias, sex discrimination and denigration of human rights is a rejection of liberty and equality and obstructs democracy

The 2012 constitution is based upon the supremacy of Egypt’s majority religion and its penetrating influence of the daily life and livelihood of citizens. Religious mandates by clerics turned into civil law and enforced by the police negate freedom and individual rights, the basic precepts of democracy. So why start with Morsi’s constitution?

Repeating SCAF’s same mistake

The miraculous second chance Egypt has now to do it right means that leaders right now must abstain from doing what SCAF did after the overthrow of Mubarak. SCAF listened to Islamist factions; some, like the Muslim Brotherhood, covering up their real views with democratic slogans, and some, like Salafi, directing anti-democratic religionist concepts to become part of the democratic process.

Please do not burden us, Mr. Mansour, with any wasteful pursuits brought about by compromises with political-religious factions. This particular task is above religious politics. Egyptians have suffered immeasurably to create this path for democracy in Egypt. Egyptian citizens are not power-seekers like those who seek to adulterate freedom’s first principles in the construction of a democratic constitution.

Best for no faiths to take part — no religious representatives in Egypt’s new constitutional assembly for a fresh start

Egyptian Interim President Adly Mansour would be wise to start from scratch the process of writing a democratic constitution bringing together pro-democracy Tamarud representatives and others interested in realizing the objectives of their freedom-seeking goals without adverse influences.

The religious in Egypt will be equally free to worship once a secular constitution with democratic freedoms is put in place. This should happen as soon as possible.

Read more: Family Security Matters

 

Not Too Fast: Morsi Downfall May Yet Herald Sharia for Egypt

Egypt's Defense Minister and head of the army General Abdul-Fattah al-Sissi (Photo: © Reuters)

Egypt’s Defense Minister and head of the army General Abdul-Fattah al-Sissi (Photo: © Reuters)

By Ryan Mauro:

The overthrow of Egyptian President Morsi is the biggest blow to the Muslim Brotherhood since its founding in 1928, but we mustn’t allow our joy to make us overlook one disappointing fact: The Defense Minister is widely reported to be an Islamist and the new “constitutional declaration” declares Sunni Sharia to be the “main source of legislation.”

The military that sidelined Morsi was led by Defense Minister General Abdul-Fattah al-Sissi. It is often forgotten that Morsi choseal-Sissi to be the top military official. He replaced General Tantawi, who analysts hoped could stop the Brotherhood’s expanding grip on power.

Dr. Daniel Pipes writes that a historian discovered that al-Sissi even helped identify officers loyal to Tantawi so they could be discharged. When al-Sissi was picked, it was correctly viewed as a major Islamist victory.

Zeinab Abul Mahd, an expert on the Egyptian military and professor at American University in Cairo, said that he was “known inside the military for being a Muslim Brother in the closet.” A leading pro-military presenter on television, Tawfiq Ukasha, referred to al-Sissi as “their man” in the military. His wife dressed in the full niqab, an act of such adherence to Sharia law than many Islamist women don’t go that far.

The Muslim Brotherhood denied that al-Sissi is one of its official members, but a Brotherhood leader conceded that he is part of the “family.” The Brotherhood is an ideology. You don’t have to be a card-carrying member to be a part of it. Even Morsi wasn’t officially a member of the party after he took office, even though he was the Brotherhood’s official presidential candidate.

Read more at The Clarion Project

Egypt’s draft constitution gives Shariah-law role to Islamic center Obama praised in 2009

1351c6217a2747f584a05fd9b6e6a6e4-e1354513805224By Neil Munro

Egypt’s new draft constitution gives a critical government role to the fundamentalist al-Azhar University, an Islamic center that was lavishly praised by President Barack Obama in his June 2009 “New Beginning” speech in Cairo.

Al-Azhar’s Islamic leadership will get to decide whether Egypt’s laws comply with Islam’s far-reaching “Shariah” laws about conduct, speech, lifestyle and religion, according to the draft constitution, which was hurriedly completed last week by a panel dominated by Islamists.

Back in 2009, Obama declared that Americans owe a debt to al-Azhar.

“It was Islam at places like al-Azhar that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” he claimed.

“For over a thousand years, al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning,” Obama said in the second sentence of his much-lauded 2009 speech.

Now, however, al-Azhar’s “role in the government of Egypt and its administration of Shariah spells the end of any remaining freedom in Egyptian society,” said Robert Spencer, an expert on Islam who predicted in 2009 that Egypt’s voters would elect Islamic fundamentalists.

“Al-Azhar is not ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ … [but] is the foremost exponent of Sunni orthodoxy,” throughout the Arab world, he told The Daily Caller.

That orthodoxy ensures that it can and will use its constitutional power to push for Islamic-style laws that mandate “second-class ‘dhimmi’ status for non-Muslims, institutionalized discrimination against women, and sharp restrictions on the freedom of speech, particularly in regard to Islam,” Spencer said.

Since 973, al-Azhar has trained Sunni imams, and its top leaders have issued so-called “fatwas.” They’re rules for behavior and speech, and are based on the Koran and the sayings of Islam’s primary prophet, Mohammad, who died nearly 1,400 years ago.

Fatwas are not laws, but Islam’s Shariah law assumes that civil law complies with the fatwas.

Al-Azhar’s role is established in several articles of the draft constitution.

Article 2 says that “Islam is the religion of the state… [and] the principles of Shariah are the main source of legislation.”

That far-reaching claim is elaborated in article 219, which says “the principles of Shariah include general evidence and foundations, rules and jurisprudence as well as sources accepted by doctrines of Sunni Islam and the majority of Muslim scholars.”

Though the old constitution also declared the principles of Shariah as the basis of law, the new constitution establishes al-Azhar as the effective courthouse for judging legislation’s compliance with Shariah.

“Al-Azhar … takes the task of preaching [Sunni-style] Islam in Egypt and in the whole world [and] scholars of al-Azhar should be consulted in all matters related to Shariah,” says the draft.

One area where al-Azhar will likely play a role is in deciding the extent of free speech.

“Insulting prophets and messengers is forbidden,” according to article 44 of the constitution, ensuring the government will have to decide if criticism of laws that implement Islam’s Shariah — all of which is based on Islamic texts — should be treated as an insult of Islam’s primary prophet, Muhammad.

Al-Azhar’s role is not spelled out in detail, so its Islamic judgments can be ignored by a hostile legislature or judiciary.

But Egypt’s politics are now dominated by Islamists who regard al-Azhar as the leading source of Islamic law, or Shariah. Also, Islamic theocracies — such as Saudi Arabia’s — thoroughly blend Islam and government, giving religious figures great influence over how laws are drafted and implemented.

The draft constitution is expected to win quick national approval in a referendum unless it is stopped by Egypt’s largely secular Supreme Court. However, the court’s work was paralyzed Dec. 2 by a large mob of Islamists who blocked access to courthouse.

The aggressiveness of the Islamists’ mob seems to echo some of the aggressiveness of the Islamic doctrine taught at al-Azhar, say critics.

In April 2002, for example, al-Azhar’s chief imam endorsed the murder of Israeli civilians by suicide-killers, Andrew Bostom, author of the 2012 book, “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History,” told TheDC.

Obama spent several childhood years in Indonesia, home to a less aggressive brand of Islam, and may not have known of al-Azhar’s history when he praised it in his 2009 speech.

“I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” he said. “America and Islam are not exclusive… they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings,” he said.

Obama chose to have his speech jointly hosted by al-Azhar and Cairo University. He praised Cairo’s lecturers and students, and al-Azhar’s leadership and trainee imams, telling them that “together you represent the harmony between tradition and progress.”

He gave Islam the credit for developing algebra and the compass, and early medical breakthroughs, while saying “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

His audience included a few invited members of the now-dominant Muslim Brotherhood movement. In 2009, the movement was largely suppressed by the Hosni Mubarak, the country’s secular dictator, who Obama urged to resign in 2011.

But Obama’s statements also reflect the failure of the White House to appreciate the popularity of Egypt’s Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood. “They don’t have majority support in Egypt,” he told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly in February 2011.

“Here’s the thing that we have to understand, there are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well,” he told O’Reilly.

“It’s important for us not to say that our own only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed people,” he said.

Islamists, including the brotherhood and the more fundamentalists “salafis,” now dominate Egypt’s democratic politics. Together, they won roughly 75 percent of parliamentary seats in elections held in 2011 and 2012, and held 75 percent of the seats on the panel that drafted the new constitution.

They also won a narrow 52 percent victory in the presidential election for Mohammed Morsi, a top leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, in June 2012.

Read more at Daily Caller