Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Mixed reactions to choice of Egyptian constitutional panel
The Egyptian opposition has given a mixed reaction to the appointment by the military Supreme Council of a commission that is charged with making amendments to the constitution. The eight man commission held its first meeting on Tuesday. Particularly the Copts in Egypt were not pleased that the chairman of the commission is Tareq Al-Bishri, a former judge and noted historian, but also a moderate islamist who has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. They were even more worried that one of the other members of the commission is Sobhi Saleh, a well known member of the Brotherhood from Alexandria, who was a member of parliament from 2005 till 2010.
The rest of the commission consists of judges. One member is a Copt, judge Maher Samy Youssef.
For the Christians one of the main questions is whether Article 2 of the Constition will be maintained. That article states that Islam is the religion of the state of Egypt, that Arabic is its language and that the shari'a (islamic jurisprudence) is the principal source of legislation.
The Coptic church on Wednesday issued a statement in which it praised both the Youth and the army for their role in the changes that are taking place in Egypt. and in which it said to be in favour of Egypt becoming a civilian democracy that is representative of all its peoples
The Coalition of Young Revolutionaries, the coalition of the groups that planned the uprising against Mubarak and which at the moment is the most outspoken opposition force, goes one step further. The Coalition is unhappy with the limited task with which Al-Bishry's panel has been charged. The panel has been asked to change only six articles of the constitution: the articles 76, 77, 88, 93, 179 and 189. The Supreme Armed Forces Council also said that other constitutional articles could be changed in order to allow fair and democratic presidential and parliamentary elections.
Article 76 pertains to candidacy requirements for presidential elections; Article 77 stipulates the number of terms allowed for the president to stay in office; Article 88 is about the way elections are monitored in order that they be fair, article 93 spells out the parliament’s authority to determine the requirements for being a member of parliament; Article 179 allows the state to curtail certain freedoms guaranteed by other articles under the pretext of combating terrorism; and Article 189 states the conditions required for amending the constitution. The task of changing these articles should be finished by 25 February. And the plan is that the changes will be put to a referendum in April.
For the Coalition of Young Revolutionaries these changes don't go far enough. The Coalition laid down what it wants in a comprehensive plan on Monday. It wants a completely new constitution that would establish a parliamentary republic, clearly define the president’s authority, and guarantee the separation of power between the government’s three branches.
The newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm quoted the political scientist Hassan al-Nafaa of the University of Cairo, who said that it seems that the military 'don't have a comprehensive plan to administer the transitional period. The army wants to finish the transitional period by any means. It suspended the constitution, but didn’t abolish it--and now they only want to change six articles.”
Others had praise for the choice of Tareq al-Bishri, who at the one hand has good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, but is known as an islamic reformer, who is in favour of a separation of mosque and state. Besides he is a former vice president of the Council of Administative Courts. Yehia al-Gamal, professor of law at Cairo University, praised him as the best man for the job, who has a deep legal and philosophical insight and is widely respected, which makes him the right man to lead the discussions.