February 16, 2011 / 5:54 PM / 9 years ago

Rewrite Egypt constitution from scratch, say critics

CAIRO (Reuters) - Army-appointed legal experts met to discuss changes to Egypt’s constitution on Wednesday after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, but democracy advocates said it must be rewritten from scratch.

Policemen block government backers trying to storm the gate of Sanaa University during clashes with anti-government protesters in Sanaa February 16, 2011. Government loyalists wielding batons and daggers clashed with anti-government protesters in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday as unrest inspired by Egypt's uprising spiralled out of police control. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The military council ruling Egypt for now has given the Constitutional Amendment Committee 10 days to come up with a partial redraft that would allow it to bring forward elections.

The committee is headed by a respected retired judge known for his independence. Some jurists and rights campaigners say keeping any of the suspended constitution would sap the interim government’s credibility.

“The current constitution is dead and nothing should be used from it,” said Hisham al-Bastawisy, a top judiciary official who said he spent the last few years in Kuwait because Egypt’s security services harassed him and put him under surveillance.

He said civil society groups had already produced several drafts and a new constitution could be ready in a month.

Those groups are not waiting for the nod from the army.

The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information plans to contact other non-government organisations and get to work immediately, its director Gamal Eid told Reuters.

Hafez Abou Saeda, head of Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said he already had a draft ready. “I filed it with the state many years ago and they put it in the drawer. I also know that there are many other drafts made by other groups,” he said.

The head of the amendment committee, Tarek al-Bishry, told Reuters it was meeting daily at the Ministry of Justice and would announce final suggestions after the 10-day timeframe.

Suspending the constitution was a main demand of the millions who thronged Cairo, Alexandria and other cities for 18 days demanding an end to Mubarak’s three decades in power.

Most of the overwhelmingly young population have never known another president and were frustrated at a lack of prospects and widespread poverty in Mubarak’s authoritarian state.

Democracy campaigners said the constitution gave the president absolute power, allowed him to run for elections indefinitely and made it impossible for candidates not approved by his National Democratic Party to pose a serious challenge.

Secularists — and some Coptic Christians, who make up a tenth of the population — are calling for the scrapping of Article 2, which says Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence the main source of legislation.

“Not the Copts alone, but a category of the Muslims, ultimately look for the omission of Article 2,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of Orthodox Coptic newspaper al-Watani.

The amendment committee includes a lawyer with the main Islamist opposition Muslim Brotherhood and a Coptic jurist.

Sidhom said now was not the time to scrap Article 2, given tensions between members of the two religious communities. Leading Muslim clerics say it is not up for discussion and scrapping it would stir religious strife.

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