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Church withdraws from Constituent Assembly

Nader Shukry

16 Nov 2012 8:39 pm

The Coptic Orthodox Church was joined by the two other major Churches in Egypt: the Coptic Catholic and the Evangelical, in withdrawing their representatives from the Constituent

Assembly which has written a draft constitution for Egypt. An official statement announcing the decision has been issued, with copies sent to each of the Churches, as well as to Judge Hussam al-Ghiryani who heads the Constituent Assembly.
The move, according to acting patriarch Anba Pachomeus, comes in protest against what he described as the deviation of the Constituent Assembly from a patriotic, consensual course in drafting the constitution.  
The statement
The statement said that that the Egyptian Churches had followed closely the efforts of the Constituent Assembly, and scrutinised the various drafts proposed by the assembly. The Churches’ representatives participated in all the assembly’s sessions and those of all its branch committees. The Churches also carefully monitored responses to the work of the Constituent Assembly by the various State institutions, the Egyptian public, and especially Coptic public opinion.
“The Egyptian Churches sensed a general discomfort at the direction the draft constitution was taking. We concluded that the proposed constitution, in its current draft, does not reflect the desired national consensus, neither does it express Egypt’s age-old diversity. We also see it as a departure from Egypt’s constitutional heritage instituted so diligently by the country’s Muslims and Copts, and a curtailment of the rights, freedoms, and citizenship Egyptians have acquired through the years.”
“Our representatives,” the Churches’ statement said, “participated in the Constituent Assembly’s efforts in a spirit of love, openness, and patriotism; and interacted through-and-through with the full spectrum of the political forces. The resultant product, however, came against our expectations of national consensus. This has driven us to withdraw our membership from the Constituent Assembly. We hope that, together with the Egyptian people, its institutions and national forces, we can achieve a constitution which expresses the aspirations of Egyptians for a life of freedom, dignity, equality, and social justice; and maintains an Egyptian civil State.”
Islamist hegemony
The decision to withdraw was taken yesterday evening during a meeting at St Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo. Anba Pachomeus presided over the meeting. Participating from the Coptic Orthodox Church were the Bishop of Youth Anba Moussa, and member of the Constituent Assembly and Bishop of Tanta Anba Pola. The Deputy Patriarch to the Coptic Catholic Patriarch Anba Yuhanna Qulta, also participated, as did the President’s aide Samir Morqos who said he came in his personal not official capacity. From the Coptic Orthodox Melli (Community) Council there were the Judges Edward Ghaleb and Munsif Soliman who is also a member of the Constituent Assembly. The [Coptic] politicians who attended included Amir Ramzy, Ihab Ramzy, Marguerite Azer and Suzy Nashed, Khaled al-Assiuty, Georgette Qellini, Tharwat Bekhiet, Mamdouh Ramzy and John Talaat.  Yesterday’s meeting came in the wake of the action taken by the 25 secular members of the Constituent Assembly to freeze their membership in the assembly, with a threat to withdraw next Sunday. The secular members’ action came in retaliation to the hegemony the Islamists hold over the assembly, and their persistence in drafting a constitution which serves their objectives and excludes others. 
Memorandum of withdrawal
After the meeting, Anba Pachomeus announced that the three Churches had decided to withdraw their representatives from the assembly because of the hegemony of the Islamist majority. “The assembly went out of its consensual track which is the base of forming any constitution in the world,” Anba Pachomeus said. “The Church remained patient to the last minute, and attempted to override differences and proceed with its patriotic contribution to the work of the assembly, despite public pressure to withdraw. The Church did its best to channel the drafting of the constitution in the interest of the country, and to reach a consensual draft constitution. The majority members, however, were working on their own to draft a constitution that does not accommodate Egypt’s historic diversity and plurality. The Islamist majority insisted on including articles already rejected by all other sectors; accordingly, he said, the Churches decided to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly, after carefully considering all the expert parliamentary and legal opinions. 
It was also decided in the meeting to form a five-member committee to write the withdrawal memorandum which is to include the reasons of withdrawal and the rejected articles that threaten the unity of Egypt and its citizenship rights. The members are Anba Moussa, Anba Yuhanna Qulta, Ihab Ramzy, Marguerite Azer and Georgette Qellini. 
Article 220/221
Anba Pachomeus made reference to what he described as “perilous” articles in the draft constitution, of which very few people are aware. Article 221 (in some versions of the publicised drafts Article 220) states that: “The principles of the Islamic sharia constitute its comprehensive sources (the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna) and their fundamental bases and recognised sources among the Sunnis and the Muslim assembly”. The ‘recognised sources’ are the interpretations and opinions cited by Islamic scholars until Ibn-Taymiyyah in the 18th century, and are not today endorsed by all Muslim scholars; this opens the door for conflict. 
Article 221 was drafted by the Islamist majority as an extension to Article 2 which stipulates that Islam is the religion of the State, Arabic its language and the principles of Islamic sharia the source of legislation. Hardline Islamists had wished to substitute “rules” for “principles” but could not in view of harsh opposition from the more moderate currents. To counter this, they came up with Article 221. 
The acting patriarch affirmed that the Church is part of Egypt and cares about its interest and prays for its peace all the time. The Church has, he said, in its decision listened to the pulse of the street and to public pressure. 
Public support
In the St Mark’s cathedral grounds, the Maspero Youth Union held a demonstration supporting and welcoming the Church’s decision to withdrawing from the Constituent Assembly. 
Andrawus Uweida, the coordinator-general of MYU said that withdrawal decision—although late—gave rise to feelings of comfort not only among Copts but among all Egyptians. Uweida added the MYU had already announced its situation vis-à-vis the constituent assembly earlier, and had called upon the Church to withdraw from what it saw as a sectarian body that did not reflect the diversity of the Egyptian society. Had the Church remained in the assembly, he said, “it would have been partner in a crime that aimed to destroy Egypt through a sectarian constitution.”
Watani International
16 November 2012


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