The Freeland File
Aerospace & Defense
Global Market Data
Lucy P. Marcus
The Great Debate
Macro & Markets
Lipper Awards 2012
Personal Finance Video
Download our Wider Image iPad app
Images of September
"Sickened" UCI strips Armstrong of Tour wins
Putin flexes muscle in big test of Russia's nuclear arsenal
20 Oct 2012
Google says RR Donnelley filed draft earnings statement without authorization
18 Oct 2012
Obama and Romney meet for final debate as race tightens
Russia's jailed punk rock band members sent to prison camps
Obama gets second chance in debate rematch with Romney
Obama talks Libya and Biden’s swimsuit on ”Daily Show”
”I take responsibility” for Benghazi, Clinton tells CNN
Time is tight to get consensus on Egypt constitution: expert
Katatni elected as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood party chief
Fri, Oct 19 2012
Tunisian struggle with new freedom hits silver screen
Wed, Oct 17 2012
Egypt's liberals, Islamists clash, 110 reported injured
Fri, Oct 12 2012
UPDATE 4-Kuwait faces parliamentary deadlock after court ruling
Tue, Sep 25 2012
Analysis & Opinion
Are we having the wrong marriage debate?
What women want is political key
Middle East Turmoil »
By Tom Perry
Mon Oct 22, 2012 3:19pm EDT
CAIRO (Reuters) - The time left for the completion of Egypt's constitution might not be enough to resolve disputes which threaten its legitimacy, according to a legal expert who says failure to forge a consensus could lead to instability in government.
The new constitution is a crucial element in Egypt's transition from decades of army-backed autocracy and should bring with it historic changes including guards against the kind of one-man rule seen throughout the Arab world for decades.
The 100-strong assembly writing the constitution has been given six months to ready it for a referendum, which means the drafters have until early December to finish.
The process has been deeply divisive, pitting Islamists who have a strong sway over the process against their more secular-minded opponents on questions such as the role of Islam in the state and human rights. Some of the Islamists' critics have called for a complete boycott of the process.
"I don't think two months are enough, not because the cleavage is great but the lack of trust will take longer to overcome," said Zaid Al-Ali, who advised the Iraqis who wrote their constitution and is now following the process in Egypt.
Separately, activists worried about the rights of women and children met in Cairo on Monday to express opposition to the assembly and the draft it has written. Such protests have become a regular occurrence.
"In Iraq, right from the start, the constitution's legitimacy was challenged, and to this day it is like a set of traffic lights that you respect only when you think it is appropriate," said Al-Ali, who works in Cairo with International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) - an international organization headquartered in Stockholm.
"The message in that for Egypt is that the more you can get people to agree that the text is a good one, or is good enough for the time being, the greater likelihood you'll have of a well-functioning state," he told Reuters in an interview.
Al-Ali worked with a U.N. mission set up to provide advice to the Iraqis on the constitution that was drafted in 2005. There are no foreign advisors to the Egyptian constitutional assembly. International IDEA, like other foreign organizations, meets informally with the stakeholders, Al-Ali said.
The dispute has been fought out in the courts, where earlier this year a ruling led to the dissolution of the first assembly. The second assembly also faces the risk of dissolution on Tuesday, when a court is due to rule on the legality of its make-up.
Were the body deemed illegal, it would fall to President Mohamed Mursi to pick a new one, presenting the Islamist leader with a headache over whether to meet non-Islamists' demands for a bigger say.
In Al-Ali's assessment, the differences are surmountable. "In Egypt you would think that the positions are so far apart that things were about to collapse altogether, when in fact there is a huge amount of overlap," he said. "They can definitely do it, but they need to trust each other."
MANY UNCLEAR ARTICLES
Al-Ali said flaws and ambiguities in a draft circulated this month by the constitutional assembly partly reflect the haste with which it was written.
There are also hangovers from the previous constitution that are more akin to a traditional Arab autocracy than democracy.
For example, freedoms such as the right to form a trade union will be regulated - according to the draft - by unspecified laws, leaving room for legislators to curb them.
"A lot of the articles just aren't clear," Al-Ali said.
Articles pertaining to the role of Islamic law, or the sharia, are also among those that beg questions.
The current draft has preserved the previous constitution's wording on the role of Islamic law: the "principles of sharia" will be the main source of legislation. Yet a new article explaining the principles of sharia is unclear, as is an article that gives an ill-defined role to Al-Azhar, an Islamic institution, as an advisor on matters pertaining to sharia.
"Different people are already interpreting this in different ways," said Al-Ali. "The current wording will certainly lead to lots of legal problems in the future and many disappointed people, to put it lightly."
Civil rights activists are worried that hardline Islamists will use the language on Islamic law - including an article that ties women's rights to sharia - to curb their freedom and justify violations such as underage marriage and female circumcision.
Mervat Tallawy, head of the National Council for Women, told attendees at the Cairo meeting that the term "rulings of Islamic sharia" tagged to clauses on women creates wiggle room for some Islamist jurists to permit crimes against women and children.
"They can create a distorted image of sharia law, placing it in a position of enmity against women," Tallawy said. "Sharia law is innocent of these charges."
(Additional reporting by Shaimaa Fayed, editing by Charlotte Cooper)
Middle East Turmoil
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Be the first to comment on reuters.com.
Add yours using the box above.
Back to top
New York Legal
Support & Contact
Connect with Reuters
Our Flagship financial information platform incorporating Reuters Insider
An ultra-low latency infrastructure for electronic trading and data distribution
A connected approach to governance, risk and compliance
Our next generation legal research platform
Our global tax workstation
About Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms. Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.
NYSE and AMEX quotes delayed by at least 20 minutes. Nasdaq delayed by at least 15 minutes. For a complete list of exchanges and delays, please click here.