Constitutional Crisis

Banner in Tahrir by Mohamed Mahmoud St reads "Muslim Brotherhood Forbidden Entry"

Banner in Tahrir by Mohamed Mahmoud St reads “Muslim Brotherhood Forbidden Entry”

President Mohamed Morsi’s opposition was given extra impetus today after the hugely controversial constituent assembly chose to ignore their two-month extension to rush through their final draft constitution.  The process was expedited in an uncharacteristic burst of energy from the assembly with more than 50 articles debated since Saturday.  Yesterday the assembly approved all 234 articles, one by one, after a marathon voting session that went on into the early hours of Friday morning.  Under Article 60 of the March 30th Constitutional Declaration, the referendum for the draft’s ratification is due to take place within 15 days.

Morsi has promised to renounce his extra powers once a constitution is in place and a lower house has been elected.  In what many see as yet more political strong-arming from Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, they see the choice offered them as lose-lose situation: vote no and continue to live with a President who holds ‘dictatorial powers’, or vote yes and have a constitution that many feel is unrepresentative and inadequate.

Mass walkouts and resignations from liberals, Christians and the journalist syndicate meant that only 74 of the original 100 members were at the final day’s proceedings, 51 of them from various Islamic groups.  Hossam al-Gheriany, the chairman of the assembly, started the day by adding 11 reserve members to the assembly’s members (the majority from the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafi Nour Party) bringing the total up to 85.  Of these 85, there was not a single Christian and only 4 women, all of them Islamists.

At the beginning of the day, the much-discussed article 2, that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the primary source of legislation, was passed unanimously.

There also appears to be inherent contradictions in several of the articles, especially pertaining to freedom of expression.  Article 31 prohibits “insulting the prophets”, article 44 prohibits disparaging the “dignity of the human” whilst article 43 somehow guarantees the freedom of expression.

A praiseworthy edit was made to article 36 with the explicit addition of “torture”.  It now stipulated that the torture and humiliation of detainees would not happen, adding that they must be held in a morally and ethically appropriate place.

In contrast, Article 198, on the military justice system, accepted the military trials of civilians “only in crimes that harm the armed forces”.  The military trial of civilians is a phenomenon many Egyptians hoped would be banished.

Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch Egypt Director, pointed out that the highest number of objections came with regards to Article 219 defining the principles of Sharia.  The Salafis in the assembly wanted it moved to the front of the constitution as an addendum to article 2.  After some discussion it remained where it was.

Many of the articles drew fire from Morsi’s opposition, specifically with regard to the semantics.  But others were more lenient with regards to some of the more obtuse wording.  “Some of the language is compromising, which is unfortunate, but they are trying to appease everyone with this constitution,” says Gehad El-Haddad, Senior Advisor to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party.  El-Haddad conceded that the constitution was not perfect but replied “look at the American or French constitution, were they perfect when first drawn up? How many amendments do they contain?  This constitution is a good basis from which we can move forward”.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei seemed certain the constitution was destined to fail, “It will be a part of political folklore and will go to the rubbish bin of history” he said in an interview on private al-Nahar TV.  El-Haddad, meanwhile, remained “optimistic” of its chances in the referendum.

The schism between Morsi’s proponents and opponents was further highlighted when both sides called for two separate rallies to showcase their support.  The opposition inundated the square once again today.  ElBaradei and ex-presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi made an appearance and announced that they would be sleeping on Tahrir.  The Muslim Brotherhood plan to hold their million-man march outside Cairo University tomorrow.

Initially the plan was for the Brotherhood to come to Tahrir tomorrow, but the obvious clashes that would result meant that they had to make a late change in venue.  The Brotherhood had already been forced to call off a march to Tahrir last Tuesday in the face of the massive opposition rally that flooded the square.  Tahrir Square, the symbol of Egypt’s revolution, has denied the entry to the Muslim Brotherhood twice in a week.

Update: State TV has reported that Morsi went to Sharbatly mosque today for Friday prayers and was heckled.  The Imam attempted to bless the presidential decrees and reportedly compared Morsi to the Prophet, causing outrage in the mosque where Morsi was trapped for an unspecified time.

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