CAIRO: The 50-member committee tasked with amending the 2012 constitution is nearing its December 3, 2013 deadline for completing its work. Despite this, the committee still finds itself deeply divided regarding a number of issues such as the status of article 219, whether or not to implement military trials for civilians, what should be done regarding the country’s electoral system, and debate about whether or not to reserve half of parliamentary seats for “workers and farmers.”
Such articles have become more contentious since committee Chairman Amr Moussa charged a branch committee with reaching an agreement regarding the disputed articles. Many within the committee claim that such disputes will not be resolved except through voting.
Maha Abu Bakr, lawyer and reserve member of the 50-member committee, predicted that those articles currently under dispute within the committee would not be resolved in the short term due to the intransigence of all factions within the committee. She added that the only way to solve such disputes would be through voting.
She stated that debate had become particularly intense regarding articles related to state identity, military trials for civilians, the country’s electoral system, representation for “workers and farmers” within parliament and the creation of political parties based on religious principles. She added that the Nour party was particularly intent on preserving article 219, which discusses the state’s national and religious identity.
Bakr added that disputed articles within the current constitution are similar to those which were discussed within the 2012 Constituent Assembly; the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood within the assembly and the inability of members to reach an agreement over disputed articles eventually led to liberal and civil society politicians to withdraw.
Osama Heikal, former Minister of Information, has put forth a series of proposals to the committee regarding alternatives if an agreement could not be reached on the disputed articles. The first constitutes a return to the 1971 constitution, including those amendments passed on March 19, 2011. This constitution would then remain temporary for a period of up to five years until a new consensus could be reached.
He described political life in Egypt as “not fully developed”, saying that 76 parties currently existed within the country, whose total registered membership did not exceed 2 million individuals, or less than 4% of the population.
That being said, Heikal added that the chairmen of those parties who obtain the highest percentage of votes should not be appointed President of Egypt’s government, considering that any such person cannot obtain more than 8% of votes by the highest estimates. He further stated that Egyptians should not be allowed to withdraw confidence from the government until one year after it has taken power.
Regarding calls for 50% of all seats in Parliament to be reserved for workers and farmers, he stated that, “representation of workers and farmers in previous periods was based on a farce,” saying that oftentimes those who actually took up those seats were army generals and doctors.
Hossam Al-Khowli, the Assistant Secretary General of the Wafd Party, said that the issues being disputed within the committee could be resolved through compromise, admitting however that others would have to be voted upon. He stated that it was in the interests of political parties to be stubborn in their positions, but that compromise and reconciliation were in the country’s true national interests.
He described attempts by some to reserve 50% of parliamentary seats for workers and farmers as “unrealistic,” saying that doing so would open the door to other sectors of society making similar demands to the government.
Regarding article 219, Khowli suggested that Al-Azhar intervene to convince the Nour party to back down from its current stance.