CAIRO: Political powers welcomed the rights charter introduced by presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei, but expressed some reservations and called for debating the articles before supporting their inclusion in the yet-to-be drafted constitution.
The charter consists of 17 articles divided into two segments: six articles outline the basic principles governing the state and 11 chart Egyptians’ basic rights. The purpose of this charter was to comfort Egyptians and guarantee their rights in the future, ElBaradei said in a TV interview on Thursday.
Political analysts welcomed the charter, describing it as an important step in achieving unity among Egypt’s different sectors and guaranteeing basic human rights.
“It’s a very smart idea to establish ethical and political guidelines guaranteeing the Egyptian people’s rights and freedoms,” analyst Nabil Abdel-Fatah, deputy head of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Daily News Egypt.
The charter stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic its main language and that Egypt is a democratic republic. It also guarantees basic rights, such as equality in freedoms and obligations, the freedom of expression and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations.
Prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood and former MP, Mohamed El-Beltagi, and prominent member of the Democratic Front Party, Wael Nawara, also welcomed the draft, but said ElBaradei needed to hold more discussions with political powers.
"This dialogue will create a national consensus and raise public awareness, which will make it a good background and resource for human rights while drafting the new constitution," Nawara said.
“We agree with ElBaradei’s preliminary charter, but we need to have more details and discussions to announce our support for it,” El-Beltagi said.
In an interview with popular Muslim televangelist Amr Khaled on a state TV program called “Bokra Ahla” — his first appearance on national television — ElBaradei said he is willing to discuss the charter with all factions of society, including the Brotherhood and Salafi groups, ultra-conservative Muslims.
He said that the current divisions among political powers regarding vital issues and the torture, oppression and lack of dignity that stigmatized Egyptians under the former corrupt regime inspired him to establish the charter.
ElBaradei met with human rights groups including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and political powers to discuss the charter and amend it.
Ragia El-Gerbawy of EIPR said that the charter is acceptable as it includes the minimal requirements of human rights which should be included in any constitution.
“We hoped it would include more details, but it’s acceptable as a basic charter that everyone can agree on,” she said.
Education and religion disagreements
The charter, however, has so far failed to garner consensus on all 17 articles. Many political powers and experts disagree on Article 15, which obliges the state to provide free education at least during the preliminary stage, which starts from kindergarten to preparatory school.
“I believe that education is like water and air,” Karima El-Hifnawy, senior member of the Kefaya Movement and the National Association for Change (NAC), said quoting Taha Hussein.
The article suggests that students would be accepted in high schools and universities based on merit, not finances. Many political figures argued that higher education should continue to be offered free to all citizens.
“Higher education should be provided for free to those who need it, while the wealthy can join private universities as they please,” El-Hifnawy said. “Good education is the basis of development in any community.”
Abdel Fattah agreed, saying that this article serves the middle and higher classes of society and would increase class segregation.
The second article of the charters also stirred debate. Like Article 2 of the now void 1971 constitution, this one stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state and that Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.
"I think ElBaradie is simply trying to openly flirt with the Islamists, which will be a negative contribution to the civil state he calls for,” Rifaat Al-Saeid, head of the leftist Tagammu Party, told Daily News Egypt.
ElBaradei interpreted the meaning of a civil state in a video posted on YouTube on June 8, saying that it entailed freedom of belief and freedom of expression without being prosecuted.
El-Hifnawy said not everything had to be linked to the Brotherhood and the fear of them reaching power.
“But I believe an article should be added to guarantee equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians whether Muslim or Coptic,” she added.
The charter guarantees freedom of religion, doctrine and practicing religious rituals without violating the rights of others.
Many political and community leaders said that this article which reiterates Article 2 of Egypt’s 1971 constitution and the constitutional decree announced by the army in March, is embedded in the Egyptian community and simply indispensable.
“I personally believe that the Egyptian community isn’t ready to scrap Article 2 of the constitution yet,” Father Filopateer Gamil of the Giza Archbishopric told DNE.
“As long as there are articles in the charter that guarantee the rights of Copts including following their own (personal status law), then the Copts will be satisfied,” he added.
Article 16 of the charter states that every citizen will abide by a personal status law that accommodates his or her beliefs without jeopardizing the rights of others.
Copts and Bahais have long called for a unified personal status law for non-Muslims that doesn’t follow Islamic legislations.
Towards the constitution
All political powers agreed on Article 1 of the charter which states that Egypt is a democratic republic, without specifying whether it will be a presidential or parliamentary state.
This article stresses that Egypt is a democratic republic where the presidency is based on free elections, not appointment or inheritance, while staying away from the debate over the parliamentary versus the presidential system.
However Amr Hashem Rabei, political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that an article limiting the presidential term should be added to the charter.
The article also guarantees the freedom of establishing political parties whose references do not contradict with the principles cited in the charter.
Article 17 stipulates that the charter be an essential part of the constitution, which cannot be subjected to annulments or amendments. The final charter is to be presented to the people so — in case of consensus — it can be included in the constitution.
As per the constitutional amendments approved by the majority of voters in the March referendum, the elected members of the new parliament will assign a 100-member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution within six months of its appointment.
The parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in September.
The new constitution is to be approved by a referendum within 15 days of its completion, but politicians and analysts have said that 15 days are not enough for a popular debate of the entire constitution.
ElBaradei said on a YouTube video on June 8 that a person can be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or a leftist, but no one can disagree on preserving the dignity of the Egyptians and the right to freedom of expression.
“These are rights (embedded in every human being),” he concluded.