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Voting on draft constitution begins

Constitution to include 247 articles, 42 of which are new

Amr Moussa, chairman of the Egyptian Constitutional panel, gestures with his hand ahead of the vote on the new constitution at the Shura council in downtown Cairo on November 30, 2013. The new constitution is intended to pave the way for a return to elected rule after July's military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.  (AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)
Amr Moussa, chairman of the Egyptian Constitutional panel, gestures with his hand ahead of the vote on the new constitution at the Shura council.

The 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the 2012 constitution began their final vote on the draft constitution on Saturday evening.

Constituent Assembly Chairman Amr Moussa held a press conference on Saturday afternoon to announce finalising the constitution after almost three months of drafting.

Contentious articles which passed on Saturday included Article 11, which addresses gender equality and women’s rights. The article obliges the state to ensure gender equality in social, civilian, political, economic and cultural rights “according to the constitution”, “appropriately” represent women in parliament, without allocating a quota, and protect women against gender-based violence.

The article was approved by a total of 39 out of 48 votes. Only 48 assembly members attended the voting session.

Another relatively controversial article is Article 38, which addresses the taxation system. The article states that the system aims to develop the state’s resources and achieve social justice and economic development. It states that taxes are imposed, amended or cancelled through the issuance of laws.

According to the article, progressive taxes are imposed on incomes based on citizens’ abilities. The article considers paying taxes a “duty” and criminalises tax evasion; it was passed, with 38 votes in favour and 6 votes against.

The Constituent Assembly passed the constitution’s preamble with consensus. The preamble included a brief rundown of Egypt’s historical cornerstones as well as certain controversial topics among assembly members. It provided a definition of the term “the principles of Islamic Sharia” based on that put forth by the Supreme Constitutional Court, giving the court exclusive authority to “interpret constitutional articles in its rulings.”

The Salafi Al-Nour Party was insistent on providing a clear definition of the “principles of Islamic Sharia” in the new constitution. Although the definition of Islamic Sharia was scraped off the preamble’s margin, Al-Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar confirmed that party representative Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour attended the voting session.

During the press conference, Moussa said that the constitution draft consists of 247 articles, 42 of which were wholly drafted by the Constituent Assembly. Moussa added that 18 articles of the draft constitution addressed rights and freedoms, while 45 articles addressed farmers and labourers’ rights.

Moussa confirmed that the assembly cancelled the 50% parliamentary quota allocated to farmers and labourers since the era of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s. He added that the Constituent Assembly agreed not to allocate any parliamentary quotas to minorities and leave the issue of drafting a law concerning parliamentary quotas to the next parliament. The assembly was widely criticised by several workers’ unions after it cancelled the article two weeks ago.

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) assembly representative Abdel Fatah Ibrahim announced his withdrawal from the assembly as a response to the cancellation of the quota. Mostafa Rostum, head of the ETUF’s International Relations Administration, confirmed that Ibrahim did not attend Saturday’s voting session.

The assembly chairman said that there are transitional articles which guarantee representation of women, farmers, labourers and youth in parliament. He added that the constitution granted labourers and farmers a 50% quota in local councils in addition to quotas for women and youth.

Moussa expressed his hopes that all Egyptians would approve the draft constitution. He described the constitution as “the path to the roadmap” announced by general commander of the Armed Forces Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi on 3 July after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi.

“In my opinion, the title of this constitution is ‘social justice’,” Moussa said.

The assembly announced it will be done with the constitution on Tuesday, 3 December.

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