Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi has scheduled a national referendum for December 15 to vote on the new proposed constitution. Juan Cole is concerned:
The new constitution promises many rights, but also limits them in vague ways that could be opening to abuse.
As a historian, I am fascinated by the parallels of this proposed constitution with the 1906 Iranian constitution. In the latter, a committee of five ayatollahs was given review power to decide if legislation is in accordance with Islam. That provision was never really implemented (in 1979 it was made moot when the clerics just took over altogether). Likewise, the Egyptian constitution gives to the Muslim clerics of Al-Azhar Seminary (the closest thing the Sunni world has to a Vatican) the prerogative of interpreting Islamic law as it pertains to the constitution. Since the constitution puts Muslim Egyptians under Islamic law for personal status purposes, and has other provisions that invoke Islamic law, someone had to decide what Islamic law is. Having al-Azhar make determinations that then feed into constitutional law is a way of ensuring orthodoxy.
The Iraqi Constituent Assembly in 2005 drafted a similar provision, for the Shiite clergy of Najaf to review legislation and interpret Islamic law as it touched the constitution. That article was dropped, however, under severe pressure from the US ambassador of the time, Zalmay Khalilzad, and from other Iraqi groups such as the Kurds.
Putting Muslim Egyptians under Islamic law for matters of personal status is also troubling. Many secularists would not want to have their private lives governed in this way. In cases of intestacy, their daughters would only inherit half what their sons did. There is also a danger that this constitution could normalize the interference of religious groups and authorities in private matters such as marriage.