Members of the Constituent Assembly met to vote on the latest draft of the constitution on Thursday.
Following the voting, the draft constitution will be approved by the president, after which it will be put to a referendum. The decision to vote on the constitution came as a surprise after President Mohamed Morsy extended the assembly’s deadline for completing their work by two months last Thursday.
However the Egyptian Social Democratic Party said the vote was invalid because the meeting did not have a quorum. The party released a list of 53 members who had withdrawn from the assembly. It warned that the speed with which the assembly is moving will bring the assembly to a downfall.
The chairman of the assembly, Hossam Al-Gheriany, called on the members who had withdrawn to take part in the voting process, according to Ikhwanweb. He added that the suggestions of the former members had been taken into account, with changes introduced to the draft.
Constitutional law experts have criticised several of the more controversial articles in the draft constitution. Article 198 states that “civilians can’t be tried before military courts except for crimes that harm the armed forces and the law determines these crimes.”
Ra’fat Fouda, a constitutional law expert, said this article hasn’t changed since the 1971 constitution. Fouda said “this text has no meaning linguistically.” The word harm, Fouda says, could extend from taking a photograph of a military base to burning that military base.
“Would a fight between a civilian and a member of the armed forces on a public bus be considered harming the armed forces?” Fouda asked.
Fouda believed the article was included to appease the military judiciary which feels that it has the right to try civilians.”The Constituent Assembly succumbed to the demands of the armed forces,” Fouda said.
Magdy Qoroqor, another constitutional expert, said the text is too general. It should read, “except for crimes against military institutions or military groups,” Qorqor said.
Qorqor also took issue with the absence of any mention of the office of the vice-president in the draft constitution. “This is a big defect, we are now becoming a parliamentary republic which means that the president has some powers. If the president has some powers then he has to have a vice-president.”
Regarding the freedom of the press, Qorqor said Article 48 needs to be changed. Article 48 states that the freedom of the press is guaranteed within the framework of the rights, freedoms, respect for the sanctity of private life as well as the requirements of national security. It adds that the media can’t be silenced without a court order and that it can’t be subject to censorship except during times of war and public mobilisation. Qorqor said that even during war, censorship has to be limited.
“The word national security doesn’t fit where it is and implies a certain amount of limiting the freedom of the press. It has to be moved. During time of war, censorship should only be allowed when it comes to matters of national security,” Qorqor said.
In a case pressing for its dissolution, the fate of the assembly will be decided by the Supreme Constitutional Court next week despite Morsy’s recent constitutional declaration which states that no judicial body has the right to disband assembly.