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Legal experts urge constitutional reforms in wake of Arab Spring

By Elisa Oddone - Dec 04,2013 - Last updated at Dec 04,2013

AMMAN — Legal experts on Wednesday called for a clear separation of religion and state in countries swept by Arab Spring revolutions that brought Islamists to power.

Regime changes and civil wars have characterised the situation of Arab Spring countries since 2010, with long-time rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen being ousted.

“Religion is important, but politics is different. Egypt rejects political Islam,” Yahya Al Jamal, a jurist and former Egyptian deputy prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, said at a conference on democracy and constitutional rights in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

The Egyptian chapter of the Arab awakening started with the uprising that ended the 30-year dictatorship of Mubarak, culminating with the first free presidential elections, won by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.

The Egyptian army ousted Morsi in July in response to popular protests against his rule and the Brotherhood is now banned in Egypt.

“Morsi won the elections with a majority of 5,000 votes, but some 20 million took to the streets in July to protest against his rule. It was a legitimate action, not a coup,” Jamal argued, adding the Brotherhood repeated what Mubarak did.

“Egypt has plunged into a serious economic depression under the Brotherhood and is now experiencing uncontrolled and unorganised civil forces. The Islamists alienated large parts of society by monopolising power, and now, it will take up to eight years for the country to reach stability.”

Members of the audience at the University of Jordan disagreed with Jamal’s position, calling Morsi’s ouster in July a coup.

Ramadan Bateekh, an Egyptian professor of constitutional law, said countries in North Africa and the Middle East rocked by Arab Spring protests must now heed citizens’ demands for accountability by cracking down on corruption and granting them a solid constitution and safeguarding their rights.

“Since 2011, we have been experiencing a mature constitutional awareness in the Arab region, a culture that the Arab world lacked until very recently. People have started reading their constitutions to know about their rights,” Bateekh added.

Former Lebanese interior minister Ziad Baroud agreed with Bateekh’s analysis, noting that during the revolutions people asked for freedom not food.

“The Arab Spring brought up demands that were never expressed before. Prior to 2011, no one would have dared to take to the street in the region and ask for rights and freedom,” Mohammad Hammouri, former justice minister said.

“This is an historical time and has opened a completely new era.”

“Before the Arab Spring, constitutions were perceived as a red line, but then they started to be amended. People understood that constitutions are not just scripts but have a direct impact on reality,” Hammouri said.

Noting that Jordan’s Constitution was written in 1952, Hammouri said 78 articles of the charter were amended in 2011, adding that the Kingdom needs to implement further legal reforms in the near future.

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