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Middle East

Egypt assembly adopts draft constitution

Constituent assembly approves articles of disputed new constitution, as opposition continue protests.
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2012 12:06
The assembly voted to keep the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation [Reuters]

Egypt's constituent assembly has adopted a draft constitution after a marathon all-night session that began shortly afternoon on Thursday and ran until Friday morning.

The assembly - boycotted by liberals and Christians - has been accused of rushing through approval of the document, which is at the centre of a political crisis pitting Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president, against several opposition parties.

In depth

Some of the disputed articles:

The new draft keeps article that law will be based on "principles of Islamic law" but adds an article stating that Egypt's leading Islamic institution, al-Azhar, must be consulted on any matters related to Shariah.

Another article underlines that the state will protect "the true nature of the Egyptian family ... and promote its morals and values," suggesting state control over the arts.

The draft contains no article specifically establishing equality between men and women. However, it states that a woman must balance her duties toward family and outside work, suggesting that she can be held accountable if her public role conflicts with
her family duties.

The articles approved include a unanimous decision to retain the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation.

However, a new article states that Al-Azhar, Egypt's most respected Islamic institution, must be consulted on any matters related to Islamic law, a measure critics fear will lead to oversight of legislation by clerics.

The text of the 234 articles will be sent to President Morsi, and should be put to a referendum within two weeks, said Hossam al-Gheriani, the head of the assembly.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Tahrir Square, said the draft was being viewed as the "Muslim Brotherhood constitution".

"People have already gathered here to join the thousands gathered in a sit-in for much of the past week," she reported. "They're here to protest against the recent decrees of the president, but also now against this draft constitution passed last night by the constituent assembly.

"They're not just upset with the content, but the way in which it was rushed through. [Only] 85 out of the 100 members were actually present in that vote, the rest boycotted because they said their concerns were not being listened to.

"So you had a situation where most of the liberal secular forces weren't involved, weren't consulted all the way through this process and weren't voting at the last moment. There wasn't a single Christian member voting in that assembly last night, despite the fact that Christians make up more than 10 per cent of the population here, and there were only four women of the 100 member body - and all those four women belong to religious parties, the Salafi and the Muslim Brotherhood party.

"So for the people here at least, this consitution is tainted, it's not being seen as Egypt's constitution, but as the Muslim Brotherhood's constitution, and if at the end of the day the constitution is the foundation of a state, then, if this constitution is adopted, then we're on very shaky ground in this country."

The new charter limits the president's term of office to two four-year terms, ending the system of unlimited tenure during the era of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years.

Sherine Tadros reports from Tahrir Square

"We want a constitution we agree on," said al-Gheriani, adding that the panel had been "awaiting" boycotting members even as it went to the vote.

The opposition, which has mobilised unprecedented rallies since Morsi assumed broad powers last week, accuses the president and his allies in the constituent assembly of railroading the charter through for a quick referendum.

The charter will replace the one suspended after Mubarak's overthrow in early 2011.

'Rushed manner'

The opposition has criticised the rushed manner in which the assembly was operating and opposes some of of the draft charter's provisions on rights and freedoms.

Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said some of the draft article provisions freedom of expression and religion resemble a "penal code."

"You don't list all the things that you are not allowed to do, you're supposed to set up the rights and limitations," she said.

Particularly worrisome was the limitation of religious freedom to followers of Abrahamic religions, Morayef said, which would exclude minorities, such as Bahais, that have been persecuted in Egypt.

"They have added language that is problematic to freedom of expression, you cannot 'insult a human', which is very broad. It can be used to censor criticism of the president," she said.

Christians also objected to an article that appears to narrow the meaning of "the principles of Islamic law" to the tenets of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence.

'Dictatorial'

Morsi's decree last week , described by the opposition as dictatorial, stripped courts of the right to annul the controversial constituent assembly ahead of an expected court ruling on Sunday.

Mahjoob Zweiri of Qatar University joins Al Jazeera
to discuss Egypt's constitutional crisis

It granted sweeping new powers to the presidency, effectively shielding Morsi's decisions from review by the judiciary, which he and his movement believe retains Mubarak-era appointees who are inimical to Islamists.

The top Cassation Court has suspended work to protest against the decree, which will expire once the constitution is ratified.

Morsi and his supporters argue that delaying approval of the constitution, which would be followed by parliamentary elections to replace the Islamist-dominated house dissolved by a court earlier this year, would delay democratic transition.

The assembly, dominated by centre-right Islamists, had announced on Wednesday it would vote on the charter the following day, to the shock of opposition groups holding out hope that Morsi would try to negotiate after a massive rally on Tuesday.

Morsi allowed the assembly a further two months after its mid-December deadline to finish the charter, making the quick vote even more of a surprise to the opposition.

Friday march

Opposition groups said they would hold marches on Friday to Cairo's Tahrir Square, where dozens of protesters say they will remain camped out until Morsi reverses his decree.

Minor skirmishes persisted on Thursday between some protesters and police near the square.

At least three protesters have been killed in countrywide unrest since the decree.

The president said in a magazine interview on Wednesday that he would surrender his controversial new powers once a new constitution is in place, hoping to assuage the sense of popular anger which has been growing since Mubarak's ousting.

"If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop," Morsi told the US Time magazine.

"I hope, when we have a constitution, what I have issued will stop immediately."

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Agencies
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