Experts pose thoughts during Cairo International Book Fair

Heated debate on Egyptian constitution at event highlights rift

GMT 15:39 2013 Tuesday ,29 January

Arab Today, arab today Heated debate on Egyptian constitution at event highlights rift

Debate was held against background of violent clashes currently taking place in Egypt
Cairo – Ali Ragab

Debate was held against background of violent clashes currently taking place in Egypt Cairo – Ali Ragab A heated debate on Egypt's new constitution at the Cairo International Book Fair revealed the depths of the division over the country and how it should be run. The debate was held against the background of violent clashes taking place in many locations around the country with protesters demanding - among other things - that the constitution approved referendum late last year is discarded.
 Taking part were human rights activist Amani Abul Fadl, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly, lawyer Hafez Abu Seada who also runs the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights [EOHR] and celebrated constitutional expert Dr Gabber Nassar.
 Abul Fadl said the constitution was "wonderful and excellent" and "granted all the rights, duties and freedoms that put it in line with other constitutions."
 Describing an atmosphere full of "conflict and disagreements across the political spectrum," she said the committee concerned with drafting the section on rights and freedoms saw the most "heated" discussion. "There was a flood of proposals and requests by organisations, human rights activists, labour activists and others. Every delegation wants you to meet their demands, which was a heavy burden on the members of the committee."
 "The constitution offers general principles and not the details that everyone wanted. Details lie in laws and not in the constitution," adding that the constitution she helped draft fell in line with the International Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions.
 "Every right and every freedom in the Rights and Freedoms sections was drafted along with its restrictions, but some people wanted the rights and freedoms with no restrictions regulating them, which was impossible and would have instigated anarchy in the country."
 Denying that the Salafist members of the assembly dominated proceedings, Abul Fadl said the constitution "achieved the highest levels of consensus between the various political groups and currents."
 "The Rights and Freedoms section in the new constitution cannot be compared with any other in the world," Abdul Fadl, who is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, said.
 Abu Seada meanwhile said: "A constitution basically lays down the rules regulating and separating authorities," before going on to describe Egypt's latest charter as "the worst constitution in Egypt's history."
 Saying that the new constitution gives the president of the republic more powers than the position allowed in the 1971 document, Abu Seada described the clause concerned with human dignity to be "vague" and said it exposed human dignity to violations in accordance with the law.
 The lawyer before the Court of Cassation went on to compare and contrast the Egyptian charter with its German counterpart, which he said "Defined freedoms and obliged the legislature, the government and the executive branch to preserve human dignity, a clause which is not present in the Egyptian constitution." He also pointed out that the constitution lacks reference to international conventions and treaties, which he said were present "even in the Sudanese constitution." The Egyptian document evades the commitment, Abu Seada said, by inserting the clause "rights and freedoms shall be practiced in a manner not conflicting with the principles pertaining to State and society" as seen in an earlier section of the document. This, he said, "means that the state is committed to Articles number 1, 2, 4 and 220, but is not committed to other international conventions and treaties."
 Abu Seada also criticised the constitution's "ambiguous" language, citing a "contradiction" between granting the right to healthcare paid for by the state and another clause that limits such healthcare to persons who can provide proof of poverty.
 The EOHR director said the process of drafting the constitution was marked by "settling scores between political forces and currents, and especially as regards the Constitutional Court." He also expressed disapproval over the absence of articles banning human trafficking and the exploitation of minors.
 Regarding the Shura Council [the upper chamber of the Egyptian parliament], Abu Seada said "It has no use in politics and it was kept on despite not having any real role" adding "it costs the state an enormous amount of money."
 He also described the presence in the constitution of rules regulating the election of the Council of Representatives [the lower house of parliament, formerly the People's Assembly] as an attempt by Islamists who dominated the drafting of the constitution to ensure re-election.
 Constitutional expert Dr Nassar said: "The new constitution did not guarantee the realisation of the revolution's objectives and failed to respond to the Egyptian public's hopes and aspirations."
 "Some articles were removed or amended on the night of the voting, which amounts to forgery of the text that was agreed upon," he said, adding "The idea that was promulgated that the constitution implements Sharia is a huge lie which used to deceive the Egyptian public." He explained "It is parliament and the government who implement it" and noted "Alcoholic beverages can be banned with a government decision but are not being sold according to a decision by Hisham Kandil's Muslim Brotherhood cabinet."
 He added: "Everyone wants to implement Sharia. If President Mohammed Morsi wants to implement Sharia, he should present a bill to implement hudud, ban alcohol and abolish usury."
 Nasser also criticised the constitution for giving the president more powers than in previous charters and added that the articles listing the cabinet's powers remained unaltered in the texts of the constitutions of 1964, 1971 and 2012. Invoking the aphorism "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Nasser said the uneven distribution of powers between "an all-powerful president and a prime minister who has no power" would lead to "despotism."
 "The new constitution does not represent the revolution and is not much different to the constitution of 1971, perhaps even worse in a number of articles," the legal savant concluded.

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