CAIRO Nov 7 Disputes over controversial
articles have raised doubts whether members of the assembly
drafting Egypt's new constitution will have the document ready
by a Dec. 12 deadline, after which it is to be put to a
referendum, officials say.
The constitution is a cornerstone in Egypt's democratic
transition after the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak last
year. Without it, the country cannot hold elections to replace a
parliament that a court declared void in June.
Pressure is mounting on the 100-member assembly to finish
before the deadline. But bickering between Islamists and
liberals over subjects such as the role of Islam in politics,
civic freedoms and women's rights has delayed voting on
individual articles in the charter.
"We are in the final metres of the marathon," said Mohamed
al-Azhary, an ultra-conservative Salafi member who took part in
the meeting. "Consensus between political factions has taken a
long time and hindered the process."
Possible scenarios if the assembly fails to meet its
deadline are vague and pressure will be on Islamist President
Mohamed Mursi to use his legislative powers to find a way out.
"We are all responsible for creating consensus on a
constitution that is appropriate for Egypt and is awaited by the
Egyptian people in the next 30 days without delays," said
Mohamed al-Beltagy, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood's
Freedom and Justice Party and a member of the assembly.
Struggling to overcome disputes, Mursi has met with party
leaders and influential politicians from both Islamist and
liberal camps to try to broker consensus over the document.
RESTRICTIVE ISLAMIC CLAUSE DROPPED
Assembly members met late on Tuesday and agreed to cancel a
disputed article that some aspects of women's rights including
marriage and inheritance should be decided according to sharia
(Islamic law), and they modified others.
They aim to hold final discussions next week and then vote
on the articles by mid-November, before the document is
submitted to a referendum for national approval.
Drafts of the constitution drawn up by the assembly so far
indicate it will have more Islamic references than the previous
constitution, worrying more liberal-minded Egyptians and
Christians, who make up about a tenth of the nation of 83
million. They fear the imposition of social restrictions.
An important article stating that "the principles of sharia"
are the main source of legislation has until now remained
unchanged from the old constitution. But a new article seeks to
spell out what those principles are in Islamic terms.
However, that is not enough for many hardline Salafi Muslims
who want an unequivocal call to implement sharia rather than
wording they say liberals will use to water down the meaning.
Egypt's new Coptic Orthodox pope said on Monday that the
constitution must be inclusive and the church would oppose any
text that favoured only one part of the Muslim-majority nation.
Some assembly members said the committee assigned to
complete the final phrasing of articles had changed the content
of their work and this wasted considerable time.
But this appeared to be a procedural rather than ideological
dispute, since the committee members are composed of both
Islamists and liberals.