Home / News / World /  New Egypt constitution clears panel heading for referendum

Washington: Egypt’s constitutional panel approved an amended charter, clearing a key hurdle in the military-backed government’s planned transition to democracy even as authorities fired tear gas to drive Islamists out of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Amre Moussa, head of the 50-member panel, said the new draft constitution would be handed on 3 December to interim President Adly Mansour, who is to submit it to a national referendum within 30 days.

The committee, dominated by secularists, approved the last of 247 articles late Sunday in a televised session, winding up the revision of a constitution drafted a year earlier by an Islamist-leaning panel. Supporters say the new charter entrenches civil liberties. Detractors say it tightens the military’s grip on Egyptian politics by giving it new powers.

The rewriting of the constitution marked a milestone in the government’s so-called road map to restoring democratic rule following the military’s July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. His overthrow was followed by the suspension of the old charter, which, while approved in a referendum, fueled deadly protests that encouraged the army to topple his government. The referendum on the amended charter is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections next year.

Islamist setback

The approval of an amended charter also dealt a setback to Morsi’s Islamist supporters, who refuse to recognize Egypt’s transitional authorities or process and have vowed to press on with protests demanding his reinstatement. Islamists called for rallies against the new draft, urging Egyptians to reject the farce, according to an e-mailed statement by the Egypt Anti- Coup Alliance, a grouping of the Muslim Brotherhood that fielded Morsi for office and its backers.

Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters who gathered in Tahrir Square on Sunday were quickly dispersed by security forces who moved in firing tear gas. The square, which had served as the epicenter of the 2011 uprising against longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, factored prominently in the mass movement against Morsi, and over the past year has been the domain of secularists and liberals.

Many secularists had said the constitution drafted under Morsi paved the way for Islam to exert greater influence over daily life in Egypt. The secularist-leaning panel that drafted the amended charter said it would cement civil liberties.

Door to stability

This is the real door to implement the road map and for Egypt to make the transition from the phase of unrest toward stability, Moussa told reporters 30 November.

The document guarantees absolute freedom of belief, bans torture and protects civil liberties, while outlawing the formation of parties based on religion.

Not included in the new charter is a 2012 article that restricted the interpretation of Islamic Shariah, the primary source of legislation, to the rules accepted in Sunni doctrines. The clause, according to panel spokesman Mohamed Salmawy, risked turning Egypt into a sectarian country.

Two articles approved on Sunday would expand the role of the military, which installed the current interim government after removing Morsi, in Egypt’s politics. One allows civilians accused of direct attacks on armed forces to be tried in military courts. The other, applicable only to the next two presidential terms, requires the military’s top brass to approve the appointment of Egypt’s defense minister.

‘Absolute powers’

Those articles give the military absolute powers over an elected government, said Ahmed Ezzat, director of the legal unit at the Cairo-based Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. This proves the army still has control over the democratic path.

The government, whose security forces have killed hundreds of Islamist demonstrators since Morsi’s overthrow, last week adopted a law restricting the right to protest, sparking renewed clashes. Police arrested 11 people Sunday, the interior ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

Rushing through a draft amid serious human-rights violations, including hundreds killed and tens of hundreds others detained, will naturally result in a constitution that falls short of meeting the aspirations of the Egyptian people, Ezzat said. BLOOMBERG

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