An assembly drafting Egypt’s new Constitution yesterday maintained the previous Constitution’s principles of Islamic law, Shariah, as the main source of legislation, as it rushed through the approval process in the face of objections from an opposition that argues more time is needed.
It also agreed to a clause stating that the principles of Christian and Jewish legal traditions would guide the personal and religious affairs of people belonging to those faiths.
The panel voted on the Constitution article by article yesterday, and unanimously approved keeping the formulation from the past Constitution, which was suspended after a popular uprising overthrew Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.
Article 2 states that “Islam is the state religion and the Arabic language is its official language. The principles of Islamic Shariah are the main source of legislation.” Article 219, which has not yet been agreed upon, seeks to explain the clause on Islamic law in terms of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence.
The issue was the subject of a long dispute between hardliner Salafi Islamists and liberals in the assembly, which will vote on each of 234 articles in the draft Constitution before it is sent to President Mohamed Morsi for approval. After that, Morsi must put it to a popular referendum. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that nominated Morsi for the presidency, hopes that a quick approval of the Constitution will help end a crisis ignited by a decree that expanded his powers.
The final draft makes historic changes to Egypt’s system of government, limiting the number of terms a president may serve to two. Mubarak stayed in power for three decades. It also introduces a degree of civilian oversight on the powerful military establishment, although not enough according to some critics of the document.
Fast tracking the panel process was aimed at pre-empting a possible Dec. 2 ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the constitutional assembly. Only a week ago, Morsi had given the 100-member panel two more months to try to iron out sharp differences over the draft, after his edicts barred the courts from dissolving the body. But when the Constitutional Court defied his decree, saying on Nov. 28 that it would rule on the panel’s legitimacy, the date of the vote was immediately moved up.
The court will additionally rule on the legitimacy of the Parliament’s upper chamber, also dominated by Islamists. The lower chamber, the lawmaking People’s Assembly, was dissolved by the same court in June. Liberals, leftists, and representatives of Egypt’s churches had already withdrawn from the panel, complaining that the assembly is undemocratic and rushing through its work.
Dissolving the panel and replacing it with a more inclusive body is a key demand from the liberal-led opposition. It also calls for rescinding the president’s decrees that placed him above oversight of any kind, including that of the courts, and shielding the panel and upper chamber, known as the Shura Council, from the courts. Opponents of the president are planning a rally in Tahrir Square today and Islamists are set to stage one of their own tomorrow.
Morsi vowed in an interview published Nov. 28 to surrender his new special powers when a new Constitution is in place, pleading for patience as Egypt “learns to be free.”
Morsi also dismissed criticism of his power grab, saying that protests on the streets of Cairo were a positive sign that Egypt was on the path to democracy.
“It’s not easy being on the world stage,” Morsi said to Time magazine. “My chief responsibility is to maintain the national ship during this transitional period. This is not easy. Egyptians are determined to [move] forward within the path of freedom and democracy,” he said.