Egypt’s new constitution has been drafted by a 50 member team – a medley of Islamic representatives, pro-military officials, and so-called independents, like Nasser Amin, a human rights lawyer who was the first insider to shed light on this process.
For over ten weeks they have convened for up to 12 hours each day to tease out a constitution that will (hopefully) balance the constitution written by the Muslim Brotherhood that won power in 2012.
The atmosphere in the meetings was said to be very tense. Nasir Amin found out first hand when he proposed that the article that would protect the rights of children should define a child as one under 18. “Everyone started shouting,” says Amin. “Everyone disagreed. It seems like a simple thing but it’s not.”
The military and the Islamists consider the maximum age for a child to be 16 – the military because they believe they should be able to take considerable action against those (committing crime) over the age of 16, and the Islamists because they see 16 as an acceptable age for women to marry.
This proved frustrating for Amin. “I yelled at them,” he said. “One of you wants to marry them and the other wants to kill them but both are still children.”
He went on the say that he “was not surprised when both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army objected. It is surprising, yes, that they both object together, but for different reasons – so often.”
The constitution is meant to be voted on and finalised by the end of the year. There is a good chance it will end up being a constitution that pleases no-one.
Radio stations in Egypt have already begun warning their listeners, saying “it won’t be the best [constitution] that the country has had.”
“Regardless of whether you approve or disapprove of the new charter, you must vote in the popular referendum on the constitution. This will send a message to the world that Egyptians are united,” says one particular radio ad.
The committee in charge of drafting the constitution launched an “official” twitter feed, though the “unofficial” feed has five times the followers and is updated more frequently.
Amin believes it would be a “disaster” if the new constitution, designed to represent all Egyptians, received less than the 63% approval rating by the one released by the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012.
Some politicians and activists are withholding judgement until the final release date. Mohamed Naem, an activist in the social Democratic Party, said “my experience with the ruling system in this country makes me never trust anything before the draft is totally finished and published, since they usually change everything in the last three days.” He added “but generally I can say that until new the constitution is okay except of course the articles related to the military.”
The articles related to the military include Article 171, which states that for the next eight years, the defence minister will be appointed depending on the military council’s approval. Article 174 bans military trials for civilians “except in cases which represent a direct assault on armed forces.”
Tamer Wagih, from the Egyptian Initiative for personal rights, says that “the army position has become much stronger in the new constitution. In one way or another you can feel that everyone is trying to take his share and protect his groups interests.”
Army and Islamic officials on the constitutional committee often acted in their own interests, with members from both sides threatening to abandon the process “almost daily,” according to Amin.
He said that “We know that the army will try to keep the control they currently have and the Islamists will try to keep Sharia Law. We have to do neither.”
This seems to be have been less than successful.
After long negotiations to try establish the right of Egyptians to practise any faith, an Article stating that “Egyptians have the right to believe what they want” was agreed upon.
Following this, a new section was added that Egyptians “have the right to believe but not to practise a religion other than Judaism, Christianity or Islam.” For Amin, this was a ploy by religious members to exclude minority religious groups such as the Baha’I, Hindus, and others. “So Egyptians can believe what they want but if they want to open a religious place or something they need to get approval from the law – and that will never pass,” says Amin.
The new constitution also fails in establishing a workable framework for the next elections. On top of this it lacks a definition of whether parliament will be sectioned into political groups or individual candidates – an issue that effected the Muslim brotherhood to run on a party slate or independent in 2012.
Instead of deciding on these issues now, a separate committee will be established later to decide on these concerns.
This is hardly ideal, but there wouldn’t be many people out there who do not agree that Egypt needs to start moving forward.
For Amin, it’s a matter of necessity – “For us, it is not an easy thing to start and try to balance the ruling powers in Egypt. But we must begin to do this.”