Egyptian military appoints committee to amend constitution

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Egypt's ruling military council has appointed a committee to amend the Egyptian constitution. The committee held its first meeting Tuesday with the president of the military council. The committee is to complete its work within ten days, with a referendum on the amended constitution to take place within two months.

The committee has eight members, mostly constitutional law experts. The head of the committee is Tareq El-Beshry, a respected retired judge noted for his independent positions. Another member is lawyer Sobhi Saleh, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the largest opposition group in Egypt although officially illegal.

The Muslim Brotherhood has never been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States government, but some people in the US see it as a radical religious group. The Brotherhood has officially said it "envisions the establishment of a democratic, civil state that draws on universal measures of freedom and justice, with central Islamic values serving all Egyptians regardless of colour, creed, political trend or religion". The Brotherhood announced Tuesday it will apply for political party status, but will not field a candidate for president in elections to replace former President Hosni Mubarak as that might be divisive. "It's time for solidarity, it's time for unity, in my opinion we need a national consensus", said a Brotherhood senior leader, Essam el-Arian.

Amr El-Chobaki, of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, remarked about the appointment of a Brotherhood member to the committee, "I could have been concerned if there were no other [political] currents represented in the committee, which is not the case ... The Brotherhood is an existing [political] current and it is normal that it is represented [in such a committee]".

Hosni Mubarak gave control of the country to the military when he stepped down on Friday after three decades of rule. Mubarak had amended the constitution while in power, to consolidate his position, including various measures affecting parliamentary elections. On Sunday, the ruling military council dissolved both houses of parliament and suspended the constitution.

According to Atef El-Banna, a member of the current amending committee and professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, an entirely new constitution would not be practical at this time. "A new constitution requires a committee elected by the people to put it", El-Banna said.