This is the third in a series of articles that highlight the objections posed by the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Churches in Egypt to the country’s new constitution. The Churches wrote down these objections in a ‘Document’ which they jointly issued and handed on 24 December to Judge Mahmoud Mekki, who was then Vice President of Egypt, in order for him to refer it to the National Dialogue called for by President Mursi.
The three Churches have now quit the National Dialogue; they realised that their participation in the ‘dialogue’ was merely cosmetic, and was being exploited to lend it legitimacy while in truth there was no intention whatsoever of amending the constitution. So why am I proceeding with this series of articles? Even though I am in perfect agreement with the brave decision of the Church to quit the dialogue which has proved anything but ‘national’—it has not even the rudiment semblance of consensus, I continue to introduce the Document with the aim of raising awareness. I hope to wake Egyptian public awareness to that trap of a constitution, and perhaps even to wake the national conscience of the powers that be in this country. Maybe then they would go back to their senses and set into action policies that work towards national conciliation and consensus before whatever is left of the January 2011 Revolution is completely lost.
Now, on to the constitutional articles that need amendment:
On the freedom of belief and practice of religious rites:
Article 43 reads: “Freedom of belief is ensured. The State ensures the freedom of practising religious rites and building places of worship for the heavenly religions, as regulated by the law.”
An untrained eye will see nothing wrong with the text; a constitutional or legal expert, however, will directly spot a serious flaw. Which puts us before the fact that those who wrote and approved this text, being themselves legal and constitutional experts, could not have been unaware of the embedded flaw. Does this imply that the text was thus formulated to trap mainstream Egyptians into approving it?
The Document draws attention to the fact that the freedom of belief and practising religious rites was always a constant, well-established constitutional right. The new constitution, however, has cited it, together with the building of places of worship, as subject to the regulating laws. This gives rise to suspicions of intentions to pass legislation that would restrict or manipulate the freedom of belief and practice of religious rites. The Document proposes that Article 43 should be amended to read: “Freedom of belief is absolute, and freedom to practise religious rites is ensured. The State guarantees the freedom to build places of worship for the heavenly religions as regulated by the law.”
On going back on the ban on political parties based on religious grounds
Article 51 reads: “Citizens have the right to establish associations and parties, upon notification only. Such institutions shall operate freely, and be deemed legal persons. They may not be dissolved, nor their administrative bodies disbanded, except by court order upon the manner prescribed by the law.”
The Document points out that the text failed to cite the ban, agreed upon earlier by national consensus, to found such institutions on religious grounds. The majority of Egyptians had expected the new constitution to rectify the post-2011 Revolution situation when religious [Islamist] parties infiltrated the political arena. Instead, the constitution legalised this situation which threatens the national fabric and security. The Document proposes that Article 51 should read: “Citizens have the right to establish associations and parties, upon notification only. Such institutions shall operate freely, and be deemed legal persons. They may not be dissolved, nor their administrative bodies disbanded, except by court order upon the manner prescribed by the law. The foundation of political parties basing on religious or geographic grounds is banned; as is the establishment of political parties or civil societies or organisations with secret activities, military character, or based on any frame of reference that contradicts the rights and freedoms mentioned in the constitution.”
Article 232 reads: “Leaders of the dissolved National Democratic Party are banned from political work and prohibited to run for presidential or legislative elections for a period of 10 years from the date of the adoption of this constitution. Leadership includes everyone who was a member of the Secretariat of the Party, the Policies Committee or the Political Bureau, or was a member of the People’s Assembly or the Shura Council during the two legislative terms preceding the 25 January  revolution.”
The Document demands that this article should be omitted altogether from the constitution, basing on the fact that, originally, crime or penalty must be defined by a legal text. No Egyptian may be deprived of political rights without a fair trial, and especially not through a constitution that supposedly ensures justice and defends rights and freedoms. Denial of political rights should only be allowed through a law for transitional justice that assures accountancy and achieves national interest at the same time.
There remains the last of this series on the new constitution, to be in your hands next week.
3 February 2013