Egypt's constitution will oblige parliament to regulate church construction

The finished draft of Egypt's new constitution, which was opened to final voting Saturday, includes an article that will oblige the coming parliament to issue a law regulating the building and restoration of churches.

According to the new constitutional article, number 235, "after this constitution goes into effect, the coming House of Representatives in its first session must issue a law aimed at regulating the construction and restoration of churches in a way that ensures that Christians perform their religious rites freely."

Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a member of the 50-Member Committee that finalised the draft of a new constitution and chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told Ahram Online that this article was drafted upon the request of several members.

"With a view to the fact that several churches suffered from destruction after former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted from office, I and several Muslim members proposed this article to ensure that Christians, who form the largest minority in Egypt, become able to exercise their rites freely and become able to build their churches in a much easier way," Abul-Ghar said.

The article dissuaded representatives of Egypt's three churches (the Coptic, Anglican and Catholic) from withdrawing in protest at the demands of the representative of the ultraconservative Islamist Salafist Nour Party on the role of Islamic Sharia in a new constitution.

The preamble to the constitution also favours the secular secular elements and representatives of the Egyptian churches in the 50-member committee. It will not include a definition of Islamic Sharia, as demanded by the Nour Party, deeming it enough to state that the definition of Islamic Sharia must follow rulings issued by the High Constitutional Court.

Also to the pleasure of representatives of Egyptian churches and secular members, the preamble clearly stated that "Egypt is now writing a constitution that complements the construction of a modern democratic state, with a civilian government." The Nour Party strongly rejected the word "civilian," but the majority of members voted in favour of it.

The preamble was approved by 47 members out of a total of 50 in a final vote. The representative of the Nour Party, Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, opted to withdraw from the voting on this article.

Other controversial articles of the new constitution include Article 234 that grants the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) the right to approve the naming of the minister of defence for two presidential terms (eight years). This article triggered criticism from some quarters, with some seeing it as instituting military rule. Chairman of the committee Amr Moussa said this article was necessary to guard the armed forces against political manipulation at a time it is fighting a war against terrorism.

Article 230 states that the day the constitution goes into effect, parliamentary elections must be held within 90 days. The House of Representatives must meet within 10 days of the declaration of the results of the first parliamentary elections. Presidential elections must be held within 30 days at most from the first meeting of the House of Representatives.

Article 232 states that incumbent Interim President Adly Mansour will stay in office until a newly-elected president is sworn in.