Egypt's Copts, Jews, Islamists Compromise on Constitution

Article Summary
After months of deadlock and paralysis in drafting a new constitution, the politicians and representatives of Al-Azhar Mosque, Jews and the Coptic Church, and the wrangling liberals and conservatives in Egypt’s constituent assembly have reached a compromise on religion, Adel al-Dargali reports.

Leaders of political parties and movements and representatives of Al-Azhar and the [Coptic] Church in the Constituent Assembly have agreed on a number of contentious articles in the new constitution.

A meeting was held yesterday evening [Oct. 4] at the Shura Council and lasted for over four and a half hours. Partisan sources who were in attendance told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the meeting aimed to resolve the differences that have recently emerged over articles of the constitution that contradict what has been previously agreed upon by political forces in the two Al-Azhar documents and the Democratic Alliance [Code of Honor].

A number of articles were agreed upon in the first meeting. A second meeting was then held to sign a final agreement on these articles.

According to the sources, many contentious points were resolved [in the meeting], and [the parties] agreed to keep Article II of the Constitution as it is in the 1971 Constitution, without any changes or amendments. [This article states that principles of Islamic law are the principal source of legislation]. Article II was a point of contention between representatives of the Salafist Nour Party and the other participating parties.

In the meeting, the Nour Party representatives insisted on explaining the “principles of Islamic law.” This prompted the participants to follow the interpretation of Islamic law principles set by the Council of Senior Scholars in its last meeting, which was attended by 26 members. [According to the Al-Azhar interpretation], “the principles of Islamic law include the complete facts and fundamental rules of jurisprudence adopted by Sunni Muslims.” The Nour party representatives accepted this interpretation, and the article was endorsed and will be placed in the general provisions section.

The sources said that the parties agreed on Article III pertaining to non-Muslims. According to the agreement, Egyptian Christians and Jews would follow the principles of their own religions concerning personal and religious issues and choose their spiritual leaders without any interference. The parties also agreed to reject the Al-Azhar proposal that it become the final reference [on religious issues]. Instead, the Council of Senior Scholars will be consulted with for interpretation of the principles of Islamic law and jurisprudence.

The parties also agreed on the articulation of Article IV concerning Al-Azhar, which states that “Al-Azhar is an official body which runs its own affairs. Its grand imam cannot be dismissed and the law specifies how he is selected.”

The sources confirmed that the section concerning the provision of Zakat [charity money], which had been heavily disputed, was canceled. The special section about the divine was also cancelled, and replaced by a law [against] disrespecting religion, not [against disrespecting] the constitution. The article in the constitution now states that “disrespect or insult to all messengers and prophets is prohibited.”

The sources noted that the text concerning the establishment of an endowment body, including the Muslim and Christian endowment bodies — which was a source of concern for Christians — was completely canceled. The text was reformulated in a way that eliminates all state jurisdiction over these bodies.

The sources added that there was an agreement to preserve the sections on general freedoms and rights, [the role of] the regulatory agencies and independent bodies, and the main foundations of the Egyptian society as they were mentioned in the 1971 constitution.

The sources revealed that a number of points — including the status of women in the constitution — could not be discussed due to shortage of time. Discussion of these points will be postponed until the next meeting, which is to be held on Tuesday [Oct. 9] in the Shura Council and attended by the same political forces who attended this meeting.

The meeting was attended by Head of Wafd Party al-Sayyed Badawi, founder of the National Congress Party Amr Moussa, Farid Ismail, Ahmed Diab and Amr Darraj, representatives of the Freedom and Justice Party. In addition Bassam al-Zarqa and Mohammed Saad of the Salafist Nour Party, and Abu al-Ala Mady and Mohammad Mahsoub of the Wasat Party were present.

Also in attendance were Al-Azhar representatives Hassan al-Shafei and adviser Hassan Abdel Salam; advisers Edward Ghalib and Munsif Najib, representatives of the Coptic Church; Ayman Nour, founder of the Ghad El-Thawra Party; Wahid Abdel Meguid, spokesman for the Constituent Assembly; Manar Shorabgy, member of the Constituent Assembly; Abdul Jalil Mustafa and Jaber Gad Nassar, who returned to the Constituent Assembly after having previously withdrawn; in addition to adviser Majid Shebeita, Jamal Jibril and Mohammad Mohieddine.

Head of Wafd Party al-Sayyed Badawi said that the meeting was very positive. He noted that all the attendees signed the agreements concerning [constitutional] texts and articles, saying that they have become binding and all representatives of the political forces in the Constituent Assembly must abide by them. Badawi noted that the signing was made on the condition that other points, namely the article on women’s affairs, would be later agreed upon and would constitute an integral part of the agreement.

In an exclusive statement to Al-Masry Al-Youm, Badawi said that if things continue as is, there will be no need to hold the meeting scheduled to be held at the Wafd Party [headquarters] by civilian forces who are members of the Constituent Assembly. He explained that it would have been necessary to hold the meeting had an agreement not been reached at the Shura Council meeting. He said that since things are going well, there is no need for another meeting at the moment.

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