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December 11, 2016 / 11 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Constitution’

Egypt’s New Constitution Laying Foundation for Sharia State

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

On November 30, a Constituent Assembly consisting almost 100 percent of Islamists voted to approve the draft of Egypt’s new Constitution. The next day, President Muhammad Mursi ordered that a referendum be held on December 15. In other words, Egypt’s population will be given two weeks to consider the main law, which has 230 articles, that will govern their lives for decades to come.

Most of the non-Islamists had walked out of the Assembly because they objected to the proposed Constitution and it seems as if the remaining opposition members did not even attend the vote. So great is the outrage that Egypt’s judges–who supervise elections and were explicitly asked by Mursi to oversee the forthcoming referendum–have refused to do so.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s chief spiritual guide raved about how great the Constitution is and then responded to the walk-out with a phrase that might serve as the slogan for the new democracy in Egypt and other Arabic-speaking countries:

“You should not have withdrawn. It’s your right to express your opinions freely.”

Yes, they could say what they thought and then be outvoted. Now that, indeed, is democracy. But what if you can already see that the democratic procedure will produce a dictatorial result? For example, Mursi was democratically elected president. He then issued a decree that said no court could countermand anything he decides. Isn’t that democratic, at least in the broader sense? Well, no it isn’t.

The competing street demonstrations of regime supporters and anti-Islamist oppositionists have now coalesced around two slogans. Pro-Islamists chant, “The people want the implementation of God’s law.” The opposition chants, “The people want to bring down the regime.”

But this time, unlike 2011, it is the regime that enjoys the support of the armed forces and Western governments, being buttressed also with almost $10 billion in aid. “The people” aren’t going to bring down this regime and the new rulers are going to implement their interpretation of “God’s law.” That is the new meaning of democracy in Egypt.

I draw here from the analysis in the Egypt Independent newspaper. For a BBC comparison of this with the previous Egyptian constitution see here. And here’s the full text. Keep in mind that neither we nor Mursi knows for sure what will happen to the parliament already elected. The Islamists have 75 percent of the seats in that body (Muslim Brotherhood, 50 percent; Salafist party, 25 percent) but the high court has ruled the lower house’s election to have been unconstitutional. If this decision stands new elections will be necessary next year. In the presidential election, the Brotherhood’s vote was only 52 percent.

While this lower vote could be due to extraneous factors–the abstention of many Salafist supporters for partisan reasons; some Islamists preferring someone other than Mursi in the first round presidential balloting and not switching to support him in the second–Mursi doesn’t know how well the Brotherhood will do if there is a new parliamentary election. Consequently, he needs to find a way to either overrule the court’s decision (hence, his decree letting him overturn what the judges say) or prepare for rule with a parliament less favorable to the Brotherhood. Hence, the constitutional provisions creating a strong presidency are very much in his interest and frighten the non-Islamist opposition.

–Islamic Sharia law is the main source of Egypt’s laws. While this has been in previous constitutions, the problem is interpreting how strictly Sharia will be interpreted and how widely it will be applied. What that passage means for Egypt is going to be a lot more significant under a Muslim Brotherhood government with major input from even more radical Salafists than it did under President Husni Mubarak’s relatively secular-style regime.

–A basic principle of the Constitution (Article 4) is to consult al-Azhar, the country’s influential Islamic university on any issue when Sharia is concerned, which potentially means on every issue. That elevates al-Azhar above all other non-governmental institutions. Al-Azhar is not (yet?) in Muslim Brotherhood hands but its leaders, who know which way the wind blows, can be expected to back a tough interpretation of Sharia law.

–To further ensure that Egypt will be a Sharia state, another provision (Article 219) states that the principles of Sharia are to be found in the four Sunni schools of thought, ruling out any reformist possibilities.

–The state must preserve the “genuine nature” of the Egyptian family and its moral values (Article 10) and has the power (Article 11) “to safeguard ethics” and morality. In other words, the government can do just about anything to determine how people should live and any aspect of their existence it chooses. This is repeated in other articles which limit rights to those that do not contradict what the state might not allow as unacceptable (Article 81) and lets the police arrest people for such crimes (Article 199).

–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the only legal religions in Egypt (Article 43). This is in accord with the general interpretation of Islamic law that only these three “people of the book” religions are legitimate. Of course, the face of Christian property will be in the hands of an Islamist government that is unlikely, for example, to approve the construction—or possibly even the renovation—of churches, again in accord with Sharia. Many of these things were also done by the Mubarak regime but one can expect an even tougher approach now.

–It is against the law to insult a prophet (Article 44). This might seem only to be a bother for those who would burn Korans or Bibles or make deliberately provocative videos. But it is important to remember that Islamists have charged that academic research has crossed this line and also the novels of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s Nobel Prize-winning author as well as a tweet from the main backer of the leading non-Islamist party. Islamist groups will be able to bring law suits against anyone whose writing or statements or tweets they don’t like.

–Freedom of expression is limited (Article 48) by the principles of state and society, national security, and others things. That means that any television station or newspaper that says anything that can be deemed contrary to Sharia or Islamic morality as interpreted by a Muslim Brotherhood government can be shut down. A National Media Council (Article 215) will be responsible for preserving “societal principles and constructive values,” which presumably means it can order publications and television channels to be closed down.

–There can be only one trade union for each profession (Article 53). This has hidden implications since in the past the state has controlled the sole such organization in each area. In addition, though, suppose doctors, journalists, engineers, or members of other professions are tired of being in associations that are controlled by the Brotherhood. They cannot form their own separate groups.

–The president can force parliament to meet in secret rather than public session (Article 93). In that case, the legislators would have no say in the decision. This makes observers suspicious about how much the president will dominate parliament, since Egypt has been a country ruled by a single man for six decades in which parliament was a rubber stamp. In addition, anything critical of the regime can be kept secret.

–This concern is furthered by another provision (Article 104) only allowing parliament to overturn a presidential veto on laws by a two-thirds’ majority. This is, of course, also in the U.S. Constitution but, again, Egypt is a country that has long seen a dictator who rules and a parliament which has no significant influence.

–There is no maximum number of members for parliament set (Article 114 and 128), raising suspicions that the president and the Brotherhood’s political party can add more people if needed to maintain control.

–If the lower house of Parliament does not approve the government platform set by the president (Article 139) he can dissolve it. Since members of parliament don’t like to be forced to run for reelection and possibly lose their seats, this pressures them to accept the president’s policies. This provision is also found in other parliamentary democracies but again there are suspicions given Egypt’s history and the regime’s ideology.

–A provision intended to make the army accept Muslim Brotherhood rule (Article 197) establishes a National Defense Council, with a majority of officers, to set the military budget. This had been a major demand of the armed forces. Another thing that will make the army happy (Article 198) lets civilians be tried by military courts for crimes that “harm” the armed forces.

–The president has the power to appoint the heads of many public institutions (Article 202).

–Two provisions (Article 231 and 232) are explicitly designed to reverse the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling that parliament was elected on the basis of an unconstitutional the elections law. Thus, approval of the Constitution at the referendum would lead to Mursi arguing that a parliament with two-thirds Islamist membership would be legitimate, rather than facing new elections in which the Islamists might lose seats.

Probably the provision most bruited in the Western media will be the taking out of a provision that explicitly said women’s equality would be subject to revision based on Sharia (removed from Article 68). Another article (Article 30) states that citizens are equal before the law and equal in rights and obligations without discrimination.

Presumably, however, this changes nothing since conformity with Sharia law is already mandated in the Constitution. But that last point is a good symbol of the Constitution’s meaning. It enshrines Sharia rule without rubbing people’s faces in it. Thus, the Western media and governments can cheer the Constitution as democratic and proof that Islamists are now moderate even though that document opens the door for dictatorial rule.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Barry Rubin

Maryland Congressman Apologizes for Holocaust Reference

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

A Maryland congressman apologized for referring to the Holocaust as he discussed his opposition to federal involvement in providing student loans.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) apologized Thursday for the remarks, which drew criticism.

“While explaining my position on an important Constitutional issue I regrettably used an extreme example as a comparison that was ill-advised and inappropriate,” Bartlett said in a statement. “I should never use something as horrific as the Holocaust to make a political point, and I deeply apologize to anyone I may have offended.”

In his initial comments at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, Bartlett had argued that the federal government lacked the authority under the Constitution to offer student loans and warned of a “slippery slope” if the Constitution is ignored.

“If you can ignore the Constitution to do something good today, tomorrow you will be ignoring the Constitution to do something bad,” he said, adding: ” The Holocaust that occurred in Germany — how in the heck could that happen? And when you start down the wrong road, it can be a very slippery slope.”

JTA

Morsi Instituting Sweeping Changes in Army leadership, Constitution, Political Appointments

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Egyptian president Morsi made several sweeping decisions on Sunday afternoon, announced by the presidential spokesperson in a televised statement.

Al Ahram reported that, to start, Morsi cancelled the addendum to the constitutional declaration, issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on June 17. The addendum included clauses that gave the armed forces a high level of autonomy; with SCAF retaining the final say in all military-related issues. It also stipulated that the head of the SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was to remain minister of defense until a new constitution was drafted.

Next, Morsi issued a decision to retire Hussein Tantawi, the minister of defence and the general commander of the Armed Forces.

Morsi also retired Sami Anan, the Army’s Chief of Staff, from his duties. Both men were awarded state medals and appointed as advisors to the president.

The president next appointed the head of the military intelligence, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, as Minister of Defence to replace Tantawi.

Sedky Sobhy, the commander of the Third Army, was appointed as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.

Morsi also retired the Commander of the Navy, Mohab Memish, and appointed him as head of the Suez Canal Authority.

Reda Hafez, the commander of the Air Force, was also retired and appointed as minister of Military Production.

Mohamed El-Assar, the SCAF member in charge of armaments, was appointed as assistant to the Minister of Defense.

Finally, Morsi appointed Mahmoud Mekki, the deputy head of the Cassation (appellate) Court, as his Vice President.

Immediately following the announcement of their appointments, Mahmoud Mekki, Egypt’s new vice president, and Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the new minister of defense, were both sworn into office before President Morsi shortly after 5 PM on Sunday.

Jewish Press Staff

Rubin Reports: A First Look at Egypt’s New Constitution Shows a Careful Ambiguity On Islamic Rule

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

http://rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/

Although it isn’t official, the first two articles of Egypt’s new Constitution have been reportedly drafted by the committee of parliamentarians charged with that task. Article 1 defines Egypt as part of the Arab and Muslim nation, a compromise between acceptance of the country as a normal nation-state and its identity as either a purely Arab nationalist or Islamist entity.

Similarly, Article 2, according to Mohamed Emara, head of the committee responsible for drafting this section, says:

“Islam is the religion of the state, and Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source for legislation. Christians and Jews shall resort to legislation derived from their own religions.”

There is some ambiguity here as to whether Egypt would thus be a Sharia state. On one hand, Islamic law is not made the sole source of legislation, while the word “principles” might mean that the interpretation will be loose, principles and not all of the details. Bourhamy says that this merely shows that Egypt isn’t a secular state.

On the other hand, though, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis accepted this formulation which, since they want a Sharia state, apparently feel does not block their goal from being reached. Moreover, precisely what “principles” means will be defined not by some governmental organ but by the al-Azhar mosque university. While the leaders of that institution are more moderate than the Brotherhood and Salafis, presumably President Muhammad al-Mursi will replace them at some point with his own people.

The Arabic word used to define “democracy” was “shura.”  This is a term often used in Muslim countries because it is found in the Koran. It might be translated as “consultative,” since the ruler (in this case, al-Mursi) can consult with the parliament. This might be taken to imply that its decisions are not binding. Also that the parliament does not have a free hand in passing laws since—it is implied—no law can be passed that conflicts with Sharia law.

Non-Islamists can argue that there is no harm in the word but it should be noted that the idea for using this term was suggested by a Salafist.

The bottom line is that there is an ambiguity which Western observers and anti-Islamist Egyptians can say means that the country will not be a Sharia state, while Islamists can maintain their own view. The key point, of course, is not the wording as such but who gets to interpret it down the road.

Finally, Christians, it is implied, will be governed by their own religious laws. But this is a peculiar formulation. If Egypt is not governed by Sharia law then why would Christians need to be exempt from it? If this provision is restricted only to matters of personal status (principally marriage, divorce, and inheritance) then Christians would mostly be living under Sharia law in any state court. And what does this constitutional provision mean for example regarding the status of women, where Egyptian law has granted more rights than Sharia would do? Another important issue will be the appointment of future judges since many of the current magistrates oppose Sharia law as that of the state.

If there is an Islamist president and parliament who pass laws that correspond only to Sharia and who appoint Islamist judges and al-Azhar  shaykhs then Egypt will be a Sharia state. No doubt though the Constitution will be interpreted by many Western observers of proof that the Brotherhood and Salafists have moderated.

Barry Rubin

Israel At 100: Looking Ahead

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The Third Jewish Commonwealth has accomplished remarkable growth and productivity in its first six decades, and inspires the world with its resourcefulness. Yet as a young country, Israel has much room for improvement. Here are the Top 12 most pressing issues facing the reborn nation today:

Electoral Reform: Israel’s electoral system of party-list proportional representation, where the entire country acts as a single constituency, has severely hampered the national leadership from acting decisively on behalf of its citizenry. Switching from a PR system to a relative majority or plurality voting system – election of candidates by district using a first-past-the-post/winner takes all mechanism – would increase MK accountability and government stability.

Constitution: Israel has for 64 years relied upon Basic Laws and legislative statutes to govern the country, and preferred an evolving, piecemeal constitution to a single national document. In June 2006, Professor Abraham Diskin of The Institute for Zionist Strategies drafted a proposed constitution that serves as a useful basis for the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to debate, amend, and adopt such a seminal document.

Parliamentary Immunity: The Israeli legislature is plagued with rogue MKs who routinely undermine national security with virtual impunity. Statutes and/or Knesset by-laws should be enacted to censure acts of treason by those responsible for the wellbeing of the country.

Judea & Samaria: Israel should annex the heartland of the homeland and offer Arab inhabitants the choice of permanent residency – with guaranteed human and civil rights including municipal and regional voting rights – or emigration with compensation. Jordan, which is several times the size of Israel and 3/4 of what was Palestine, has been the de facto Palestinian Arab state since 1921, and the Gaza Strip has been a second Palestinian Arab state since 2005. There is no justification for a third Palestinian Arab state, nor is it reasonable for the sole Jewish state to relinquish the most significant parts of its geographical identity, history, and heritage.

Warfare: Israel has warred regularly since its founding, and in recent memory largely because it fights without the decisiveness and finality required to impose peace. No nation can tolerate quasi-armies perched on its frontiers, hellbent on its destruction, striking at whim. This scenario ensures renewed warfare every few years. Rather, Israel should reject artificial timelines imposed from without, and conduct its defense until terrorist groups are defeated to a man.

Chief Rabbinate: This symbolic office should be replaced by a re-established Great Sanhedrin of 71 sages, a body of Jewish rabbis and scholars serving the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora and which devotes itself to practical religious and spiritual issues rather than serving as nominal figureheads of the religious within the distinct political realm.

Jewish Heritage Sites: While Israel has an excellent system of about 70 National Parks and Nature Reserves, several important sites from antiquity have little or no official identification and are not yet visitor-friendly. Such historical sites include: Modi’in, home of the Hasmoneans; the Maccabean battlegrounds of Beth Zur and Beth Zechariah; Yodefat and Gush Chalav, major locales in the First Jewish Revolt; and Betar, the last citadel of Bar Kochba.

Penal Reform: Prisoners – including bloodstained murderers, gangsters, and terrorists – currently receive financial benefits while in durance, in addition to the enormous expenses borne by the state on their behalves resulting from their incarceration. Instead, convicts should be made to pay for their jailing costs to alleviate the public burden and strengthen deterrence.

Road Safety: Israel’s high rate of motor vehicle deaths is reversible with better safety standards. The state should: raise the licensing age from 17 to 18; enact graduated licensing with mandatory in-class and in-car defensive driving training; enforce speed limits rigorously; re-examine drivers every 5 years for roadworthiness; raise safety standards for automakers; broaden stretches in remote or difficult terrain and improve their lighting, road markings, and signage; and impose stiffer penalties for driving with hand-held devices or without seat belts.

Bedouin Relations: Despite recently improved relations with the Negev’s Bedouins, Israel should define its relationship with the nomadic Arab community after consultations with pertinent regional councils and representative sheikhs. Such an agreement would eliminate unseemly house demolitions that occasionally still plague relations, and would determine the nature of sovereignty, partnerships, and mechanisms for conflict resolution.

Brandon Marlon

Elections Bring Egypt to the Edge of Abyss

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

About a year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the crisis in Egypt has brought the country to the edge of abyss.

The political crisis escalated shortly after the Muslim Brotherhood decided to appoint its own candidate for presidency. This decision came after the Brotherhood, together with the Salafists, obtained an overwhelming majority in the Egyptian parliament.

Shortly after this decision it became clear that the Brotherhood and the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has governed Egypt since Mubarak’s fall, are not on the same page any more. Their differences involve key issues such as the drafting of a new constitution and the power of the Egyptian parliament.

In addition, negotiations regarding a much needed IMF loan ended without a deal because of lack of political support for acceptance of the IMF conditions.

Another complicating factor is the lack of progress in drafting the new constitution.

Tensions further increased after several presidential candidates, including Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, and Salafist leader Abu Ishmail, were disqualified as presidential candidates.

The disqualified candidates appealed against the decision of the supervisory body of Egypt’s election committee, but their appeals were dismissed. The Muslim Brotherhood then simply appointed a new candidate: Mohammed Mursi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party.

Last Wednesday unknown assailants shot dead 11 Salafist protesters in Cairo’s Abbaseya neighborhood. The Salafist protesters demonstrated against the disqualification of Abu Ishmail.

On Friday new clashes broke out in the same neighborhood prompting the army to impose a curfew. Most Egyptian media accused the SCAF of being behind the bloodbath in Abbaseya.

Several political parties, among them the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, announced new demonstrations in Tahrir Square and decided to boycott meetings with the SCAF.

Constitution

As a result of the increasing violence it seems all but sure that the presidential election, which starts May 24-25, will take place as scheduled.

To complicate matters, Islamists and liberals are demanding that there should first be an agreement on the new constitution before the presidential elections can take place.

The Islamists, who have a large majority in parliament, want to use the new constitution to minimize the power of the new president, and to increase of the power of the Egyptian parliament.

The SCAF recently decided to dissolve the parliamentary committee that was in charge of drafting a new constitution. This decision was made after a disagreement over the composition of the council, which consisted mainly of Islamists, whereas liberals, Copts and women were under-represented.

The SCAF in turn had its own reasons for dissolving the Constitutional Council. In this way it is trying to influence the drafting of the new constitution and the scope of presidential power.

Transfer of power

Both liberals and Islamists fear that the Army will not really transfer all its power to the democratically elected parliament and president.

This distrust is also evident from the recent demonstrations that call for the resignation of the SCAF. During these demonstrations the protesters also demanded that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi resigns and even called for his execution.

On April 13 for example, Islamists held a mass demonstration in Tahrir Square against members of the Mubarak era, meaning SCAF officials and the now disqualified presidential hopeful Omar Suleiman.

The protesters shouted that the people “will force the Field Marshal (Tantawi) to resign” and that “the remnants of the old regime should be removed.”

Suleiman

Omar Suleiman is the former vice president and director of Egypt’s intelligence service (Muchabarat), who recently signed up as a candidate for the presidency.

Suleiman is considered to be a henchman of Mubarak, and was accused of being an ‘Israeli agent’. He and Mubarak were pictured on placards together with a Star of David.

In turn, in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba’a Suleiman accused Israel of trying to look for reasons to reconquer the Sinai desert.

Disqualification

The April 14th decision by the Election Committee of the Supreme Court to disqualify a large number of presidential candidates has significantly aggravated tensions.

Omar Suleiman was disqualified because he did not have enough signatures from supporters (according to Egyptian law, a presidential candidate must have at least 30,000 signatures).

The Salafist Abu Ismail (al-Nour party) was rejected because his mother was a U.S. citizen (according to Egyptian law, the presidential candidate, his parents and his spouse should all hold Egyptian nationality).

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Al-Shater, was disqualified because he supposedly had a criminal past.

The disqualifications came at a time when Egypt was already struggling with severe tensions between the various political and religious groups.

The Salafist leader Abu Ishmail even predicted an Islamic revolution if the decision to disqualify him was not reversed.

Economy

Besides the political crisis, there is Egypt’s economic mayhem which has brought the country to the brink of disaster.

Missing Peace

Bill to Impeach Obama for Bombing Syria without Congressional Authorization

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Drew Zahn of World News Daily reports that Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., R-N.C., has introduced a resolution declaring that the president’s use of offensive military force  without Congressional authorization would be considered “an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor.”

Jones cites Obama’s authorization of military force in Libya as an example for such unilateral action.

Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo wrote in WND: “This week it was Secretary of Defense Panetta’s declaration before the Senate Armed Services Committee that he and President Obama look not to the Congress for authorization to bomb Syria but to NATO and the United Nations. This led to Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introducing an official resolution calling for impeachment should Obama take offensive action based on Panetta’s policy statement, because it would violate the Constitution.”

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution reserves for Congress alone the power to declare war.

Jewish Press News Briefs

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