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Discussion of contentious articles halts Constituent Assembly voting

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Assembly holds meetings to reach consensus over the contents of the preamble; article allowing military trials for civilians criticised

Al-Nour has a responsibility to the nation to participate in national dialogue. (Photo : Public Domain)

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The Salafi Al-Nour Party reiterated its insistence on providing a clear definition of the “principles of Islamic Sharia” within the new constitution amid disagreement over the constitution’s preamble.

The 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the 2012 constitution has been discussing the preamble since last week, in an attempt to reach consensus over several debatable topics. A private meeting was held in the assembly on Saturday after 20 articles faced dissent from different parties, with the constitution’s preamble foremost among the contentious topics. The assembly has until 3 December to submit a final version of the draft constitution.

Al-Nour Party Chairman Younes Makhioun met with Constituent Assembly Chairman Amr Moussa on Saturday. In a statement released on the party’s behalf on Saturday night, Makhioun said that, during the meeting, he called for a definition of the “principles of Islamic Sharia” in the preamble in a manner which adheres to the Supreme Constitution Court’s definition, while adding the phrase “the terms which scientists have reached consensus over.”

Nader Bakkar, Al-Nour Party’s deputy chairman for media affairs, said that the wording the Constituent Assembly is most likely to adopt, with the party’s approval, “falls more under the judicial definition of the term than under the fundamentalist scholars’ definition.”

Makhioun denied the party is adopting a “strict” stance towards the issue. He added that they “accept any suggestions which go with our methodology and principles.”

“We want to reach consensus over this constitution; we don’t want it to be a divisional constitution which only serves certain categories,” Makhioun said.

Bakkar said that the party insists on defining the “principles of Islamic Sharia” due to the lack of a proper definition of the term elsewhere. “We want there to be consensus over what is meant by the principles of Islamic Sharia in the constitution; we don’t want the term to remain vague,” Bakkar said.

Article 2 of the constitution states that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation. The 2012 constitution included Article 219, which defined such principles. Several members of this year’s Constituent Assembly are nevertheless against including this article.

A group of political parties and movements released a joint statement last week stressing their disagreement with “including the content of Article 219 in the constitution or its preamble.” The groups included Al-Dostour Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) and the Social Popular Alliance Party (SPAP).

The assembly is also in disagreement over whether or not to state that Egypt is a “civil” state within the preamble to imply that its government is neither religious nor military-oriented. Mohamed Abdel Salam, Al-Azhar Institution’s representative in the assembly, said Al-Azhar is against adding the phrase, according to state television’s news website.

The assembly was expected to begin its final vote on the constitutional articles on Saturday. The vote was nevertheless postponed until the assembly finalises the preamble and reaches consensus over the 20 contentious articles. Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy said they might start voting on the constitution on Monday or Tuesday.

Last week, the assembly passed articles which discuss the authority of the Armed Forces. Among these is Article 174, which tackles the military judiciary. The article bans military trials for civilians “except in cases which represent a direct assault on Armed Forces institutions” or other facilities, zones, or personnel related to the military.

The article sparked wide criticism from several political and human rights movements. The No Military Trials for Civilians group had announced it will campaign against “any constitution which allows the military trial of civilians.”

The group has been trying to reach out to Constituent Assembly members and urge them to vote against the article during the final vote on the constitution. Seven assembly members had already voted against the article in the initial vote held last Wednesday. No Military Trials is trying to raise the number to 13 members so that the article doesn’t pass.

Al-Dostour Party condemned allowing military trials for civilians in a statement released on Saturday. The party referred to the now suspended 2012 constitution, saying it was a “disappointment” to Egyptians. Al-Dostour said it was “astonished” to find the 50-member assembly “cement the drastic mistake” committed by the previous assembly.

“Al-Dostour Party stands behind our Armed Forces and our Egyptian state,” the statement read. “Though we are fully aware of the precarious stage we are going through … we shouldn’t deal with exceptional situations as if they are permanent.”

The party suggested amending the Judicial Authority Law in a manner that would produce special tribunals that could swiftly and fairly try civilians accused of attacking the armed forces or security apparatuses.

Article 198 of the 2012 constitution banned military trials for civilians except in cases which “harm” the armed forces. Before the 2011 revolution, the 1971 constitution governing Egypt did not address military trials for civilians. This allowed civilian victims of military trials to appeal their verdict at the Supreme Constitutional Court, which would eventually deem the verdict unconstitutional, according to No Military Trials member Nadia Hassan.


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