Muslim Brotherhood Downplays Constitutional Conflict in Egypt

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood played down differences with liberals over drafting a new constitution, but a representative of these groups said they were joining forces against "Islamization." Ahmad Rahim from Al-Hayat also reported the groups have not ruled out mounting an electoral challenge.

al-monitor The members of Egypt's constitution committee meet at the Shura Council in Cairo Sept. 11, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.

Topics covered

secularism, liberals, constituent assembly

Sep 27, 2012

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has downplayed differences between the Islamist movement and the liberals over the new constitution that the Constituent Assembly is currently drafting.

These differences culminated in the resignation of assembly member Manal al-Tiby, who believed that there were attempts on the part of the Islamist movement to monopolize the drafting of the constitution.

The Brotherhood criticized the steps taken by former presidential candidates Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabahi and head of the Constitution Party, Mohamed ElBaradei, in a bid to "avoid one party dominating the process of writing the constitution," arguing that the tripartite meeting during which the secularists and liberals agreed to seek coordination only "fabricates crises.”

Dr. Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Hayat: "The writing of the constitution has been completed and all that is left are some formulations over which agreements are being reached.”

Article II of the constitution, relating to Islamic law, is the core of the dispute between Islamists and liberals within the assembly. Add to this some articles regarding public freedoms — and the freedom of the press in particular. Liberals are against introducing any amendments to Article II of the constitution, according to which "the principles of Islamic law are the main source of legislation."

For their part, Islamists insist on deleting the word "principles" or stipulating that Al-Azhar is the reference in this regard.

The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, intervened and held separate meetings with representatives of the two currents in an attempt to solve the crisis. It should be noted that the crisis worsened after liberal members of the assembly threatened to withdraw and called upon representatives of the civil movement to do likewise.

Moussa, Sabahi and ElBaradei held a meeting on Sept. 25 in the presence of political figures from the civil movement in order to discuss the matter.

Dr. Ayman Nour, head of the Ghad El-Thawra Party, told Al-Hayat that "the meeting was basically held for coordination reasons, pointing out its importance, as it is the first to be held at this level.

“The meeting tackled the general situation, what we have and have not achieved in the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the constitution, as well as discomfort caused by some articles related to liberties. We talked about the electoral system and the coordination process in order to reach the optimal system, and we did not resolve the issue. However, the general trend was in favor of the party-list system," Nour added.

He explained that the conferees agreed to keep communicating in order to “coordinate and face any attempts aimed at monopolizing the process of drafting the constitution.”

Nour explained that it was agreed upon to hold further meetings, adding that this meeting was the first step toward unifying civil forces.

Despite the fact that sources close to Sabahi denied that the meeting had tackled the issue of electoral coordination among the three entities, Nour did not rule out the matter: “Everything is possible, and it is premature to talk about this issue.”

Ghozlan downplayed the crisis, saying it was "fabricated." He told Al-Hayat: "There was only one resignation from the assembly, this does not mean that the assembly is facing a dilemma.”

He explained that the problem with Article II of the constitution was related to "the constitutional court's interpretation of the words 'principles of Islamic law,' as a very small number of these principles are defined in canonical texts, whereas the rest — which represent the majority — are of a general character and thus cannot be taken into account and applied.

“Some objected, demanding that the word ‘principles’ be deleted. Others objected. Islamists, for their part, asked that Al-Azhar be the main authority in the issue of legitimacy. Liberals agreed but then refused this text. Thus, Islamists agreed on the text on the condition that it stipulates that no legislation be enacted contrary to Islamic law. Consequently, liberals agreed then backed down and refused, and things are heading toward consensus with no severe crisis threatening the assembly's entity,” Ghozlan said.

He added: "Those who want the assembly to be dissolved do not want any consensus, and I say: the constitution is completed and all that is left is some formulations and observations aimed at improving these formulations, and the idea of ​​dissolving the assembly is out of the question."

Ghozlan said that the meeting between Moussa, ElBaradei and Sabahi "fabricates crises.”

"There is ebb and flow in the disputes over the constitution," he added.

Meanwhile, head of the Egypt of Freedom Party, Dr. Amr Hamzawy, called for "communication" with international institutions to ensure that the Islamist movement is forced to write a consensus constitution in line with Egypt's international obligations.

Hamzawy told Al-Hayat: “This is not a call for international intervention. However, constitutions should not be written in a local context. There should be communication with the relevant international institutions, such as the European Parliament and the [European] Court of Human Rights, because the issue of writing a constitution is greater than the conflicts between the political forces. Such an issue is mainly linked to the international conventions signed by Egypt.”

Hamzawy explained that the meeting held between ElBaradei, Moussa and Sabahi was important, pointing out that one of the ideas proposed was "popular movement and action on the ground to make people aware of the importance of the constitution issue."

Among the ideas suggested, Hamzawy added, is the withdrawal of human rights and citizenship activists, should the process of writing the constitution be taken out of context.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,500 judges and members of the public prosecution confirmed during their meeting at the High Court yesterday [Sept. 26] their unanimous opposition to the attempts aimed at incorporating some judicial bodies into the military judiciary, as well as the complete rejection of the proposal of establishing a civilian prosecution.

It warned of the danger of such proposals, "which some seek to impose in the chapter of the judiciary in the proposed draft constitution through the Constituent Assembly, given the damage that this would inflict to the course of justice and given that this would disable court decisions.”

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Ahmad Rahim