The new draft constitution

The 50-member committee tasked with writing the constitution released on Friday a draft of its amendments of the 2012 constitution, dated November 21.

Mada Masr embarked on a process of reading the draft and comparing it to the 2012 Constitution. Below are some observations on each article in the two first chapters pertaining to the general principles of the state and the general principles of society, which include social, economic and cultural principles.

Committee Spokesperson Mohamed Salmawy said on Saturday that the final draft is yet to be issued, while some 20 articles are yet to be agreed upon, the articles sequence reorganized, a preamble finalized, and reserve members consulted.

First chapter: General principles of the state

The terms “citizenship” and “rule of law” have been added to Article 1 as the basis for the ruling regime. They weren’t featured in the 2012 Constitution.

No changes were made to Article 2, which stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state and that principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.
No changes were made either to Article 3, which gave Christians and Jews the right to refer to their own principles for personal status and religious affairs. Article 4 continues to consider the people the source of authority and proprietors of sovereignty.

Counseling (shura) is removed from Article 5, which stipulates that the political system is based on the principles of democracy and pluralism. 

An article is added stipulating the state’s responsibility to abide by rights and freedoms stipulated by international human rights agreements ratified by Egypt. 

Another article is added giving the right to citizenship to anyone born to an Egyptian father or mother

Second chapter: General principles for society

The chapter on general principles of society relocates Al-Azhar from its earlier placing as part of the general principles of the state in the 2012 Constitution. In its new placing, as Article 7, Al-Azhar is still described as an independent Islamic institution with exclusive autonomy over its own affairs, but in its listed functions, the earlier stipulation that its senior scholars be consulted in matters pertaining to Islamic law was removed.

Article 8 collapses state responsibility into one line committing the state to social justice and means of social charity and solidarity. State responsibility toward the protection of persons and property, and working toward providing for all citizens was removed from the new phrasing, which also began now with a sentence reading, “society is based on social solidarity.”

In Article 9, the state commitment to ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens was renewed, while a line about state responsibility toward ensuring security and safety for all citizens and people residing in Egypt was incorporated separately in Article 44. 

Much of the language around Article 10 was limited to stating that the family is the basis of society, that the family is founded on religion, morality and patriotism, and that the state is responsible for its cohesion and stability. Earlier lines rendering the state responsible for protecting the “genuine character of the Egyptian family” were removed, as were its responsibilities to safeguard ethics, public morality and public order and to foster Arab culture.

A line rendering the state responsible for maternal and child health services free of charge were removed, as well as special care and protection for divorced women (which is now limited to old women, female breadwinners, the poorest women and widows.)

Article 11 now brings up elements that were absent in the 2012 Constitution, such as the state ensuring equality between men and women, women’s representation, and the protection of women against violence. 

Articles 12, 13 and 14 keep most of the language around labor rights, stipulating that labor is a right and a duty, banning forced labor, expressing citizens’ rights to public jobs according to merit, protecting civil servants, safeguarding against occupational hazards, and recognizing the right to peacefully strike as organized by the law.  

However an exception to forced labor was added for the performance of a public service for a limited period and with fair compensation in accordance with the law. Moreover, a line in the 2012 Constitution guaranteeing fair pay, vacation time, retirement, social security and healthcare for every worker was removed.

Meanwhile, a new article was added to reflect the state’s responsibility toward preserving labor rights and means for workers’ collective negotiation as well as balanced relationships between employers and employees.

In Article 15, pertaining to the honoring of martyrs, the reference to the 25 January revolution was removed and the article was expanded to include the state honoring and supporting those wounded in security operations, as well as their families.

Article 16 kept the state’s responsibility for providing social insurance for all citizens unable to support themselves and their families in cases of unemployment and old age, but the guarantee of a minimum sustenance was removed from the new draft. The article kept promises to support small-scale farmers, casual laborers and fishermen with pensions.

The novelty with regards social insurance in the new draft is the consideration of pensions as “private funds; the right to them and their revenues goes to their beneficiaries. They are safely invested and are managed by an independent authority.”

Article 17 keeps every citizen’s right to healthcare, as well as the state’s responsibility to supervise all healthcare facilities, products and services. 

An addition specifies government expenditure on healthcare as no less than 3 percent of GDP, to increase gradually in order to reach international standards. The article also adds the state’s role in “preserving” all health facilities and improving their standards, while ensuring their fair distribution geographically. It also adds the state’s responsibility to improve the conditions of medics, nurses and employees in the healthcare field. 

The article still prohibits the denial of medical support in cases of emergency, but no longer states that all healthcare facilities should provide support in cases of emergency — unlike the 2012 Constitution. The article no longer says that the state is committed to provide healthcare free of charge to those unable to pay, but that it will create a healthcare system for all Egyptians, for which the law shall organize the way contributions and financial exemptions are made.

An additional clause stipulates that the state will encourage the private sector to support healthcare services, in accordance with the law. 

A relationship between education and identity was newly introduced in Article 18, which stipulates that education is a right to all citizens, the aim of which is “to build the Egyptian personality, to preserve national identity, to deepen scientific thinking and to crystallize civilizational and spiritual concepts, as well notions of citizenship, tolerance and non-discrimination.”

The article reaffirms the state’s responsibility to provide free education in public schools, but adds the phrase “according to international quality standards.” The article also adds that education is obligatory until secondary level, unlike the 2012 Constitution which limited obligation to primary/elementary level. Like the health article, the education article specifies that government expenditure not be under 4 percent of GDP and also gradually increase. These details are not found in the 2012 Constitution. 

Otherwise, the article maintains the state’s responsibility to monitor all schools, private and public, and ensure they confine with its general policies, which is broadened from a more specific stipulation in 2012 said that they should “abide by the state’s educational plans and goals, and realize the link between education and the needs of society and production.”

Finally, support to technical education is also kept in the new draft. 

Article 19 expands state responsibility toward higher education and research institutions by committing it to develop education and research, provide free education in public universities, and avail no less than 2 percent of GDP to expenditure on higher education. The article also ensures the independence of universities. Meanwhile, the article encourages non-profit universities established by non-state players. None of these details are featured in the 2012 document. 

In the same article, the new draft commits the state to developing the caliber of professors. The article also recognizes the importance of free scientific research and commits the state to spending no less than 1 percent of the GDP on it. 

The new draft stipulates in Article 20 that Arabic, religion and national history are main subjects in pre-university education, but removes the 2012 stipulation that commits the state to fostering the Arabization of education, science and knowledge. 

Article 21 of the new draft commits the state to put in place a plan that eradicates digital and alphabetical illiteracy, but removes the 10-year scheme for its implementation mentioned in the 2012 Constitution. The reference to digital illiteracy is new in the current draft. 

The economic order stipulated in Article 22 aims at raising growth rates, improving living conditions, increasing work opportunities, lowering unemployment and ending poverty, as mentioned in the 2012 Constitution. The key to those aims in the new draft is sustainable development and social justice, while in the 2012 Constitution the key was a large and comprehensive development plan. 

Establishing equitable distribution, lowering income gaps and committing to a minimum and maximum wage in public institutions were principles kept in the new draft, without the exceptions that were in the 2012 Constitution and without linking wages to production.

Transparency and governance are pillars of the economic order in the new draft but were not found in the 2012 document, and the same is true for encouraging competition and investments, balanced development on geographic, environment and sector levels, and banning monopolistic practices. The new draft calls on preserving a “financial and commercial balance” and a fair tax system, regulating market mechanisms, and protecting all forms of property. It also speaks of establishing a balance between different interests in a way that protects both employees and consumers. 

A reference to dividing development costs between capital and labor was removed for the new draft. 

The draft also commits the state in Article 24 to protecting productive economic activities, creating an attractive environment for investment, increasing production, encouraging exports and regulating imports, all of which are not found in the former document. The new draft makes a special reference to the organization of the informal sector. A line about protecting small and medium enterprises was not in the previous document.

In the same article, agriculture is kept as an essential asset to the national economy, as well as the state’s responsibility to protect farmers from exploitation, increase farmland, improve rural living conditions, and provide all necessities for agricultural production. The new draft criminalizes the violation of farmlands and commits the state to buying main agricultural crops, for which it will set convenient prices, and allocating some lands for small-scale farmers and fresh graduates. The new draft also gives over a whole clause to fishermen and their right to work without hurting the environment. 

References to industry as an essential asset to the national economy, the protection of strategic industries and the support of industrial development and handicraft industries are no longer found in the new constitution. The same goes for a 2012 article committing the state to reviving and encouraging charitable endowments as well to an article prohibiting nationalization unless it’s in the public interest — none of these appear in the new draft.

Article 25 still stipulations that natural resources belong to the people and the state must preserve them. But it adds that the state is responsible for encouraging the manufacture of raw materials and increasing their added value. It also adds that grants of rights to use natural resources shall be limited to 30 years, while rights to use quarries shall be limited to 15 years. The 2012 Constitution instead provided more broadly that the franchise to use public goods would be granted according to legal regulations. 

In Articles 26 to 30 the new draft, like its predecessor, guarantees the protection of all kinds of legitimate ownership, public, private or cooperative. However, they add that the state encourage private owners to conduct their social responsibility of serving the national economy. They also add that cooperatives can only be dissolved through a judicial order. 

The article pertaining to the tax system preserves social justice as a foundation but adds economic development and wealth redistribution as goals. It mentions progressive taxes as a tool for social justice, which is not mentioned in the previous draft. 

The new draft also keeps a workers’ share of the management ‫and profits of enterprises, and the representation of workers on boards of directors in the public sector within the limits of 50 percent, while small-scale farmers and craftsmen get an 80 percent representation on boards of agricultural and industrial cooperatives.

The draft has a whole new article, Article 33, dedicated to protecting the Suez Canal as an international waterway, and to developing it as a unique economic center under the supervision of the state. 

Article 34 repeats its predecessor’s commitment to protecting the Nile River, but adds the preservation of “Egypt’s historic rights” associated with it, collaboration with the Nile Basin countries, protection from waste and pollution, and the taking up of all measures regarding water security. The article also expands to provide for citizens’ right to the Nile and to prohibit attempts to violate it or to harm its environment. 

The right to a healthy and balanced environment, the  criminalization of environmental violations, and the protection of waterways were all kept in the new draft. However, it also references the state’s responsibility to explore, develop and invest in renewable energy.

In the cultural principles section, a new clause articulates the state’s responsibility to protect “the Egyptian cultural identity” with all its derivatives. 

Also, a new clause stipulated culture as a right for all citizens that should be protected and supported by the state, which should spread cultural production across society and encourage translation from and to Arabic. 

A whole article is also dedicated to the protection of monuments and the responsibility for restoring them and returning what was stolen. The reference to monuments was rather fleeting in the previous constitution. 

Similarly, a heritage article describes Egypt’s cultural and civilizational heritage as inclusive of Pharaonic, Coptic, Islamic and modern heritage, as a national resource the state should preserve and criminalize any violations against. The same article commits the state to giving special attention to constituents of cultural diversity in Nubia, Sinai, the oases and elsewhere. No mention of these was made in the previous document. 


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