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Inside Story

Will the constitution divide or unite Egypt?

As Egypt votes on a new constitution, we ask if the referendum will help resolve the country's political crisis.
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2012 14:55

In scenes that were reminiscent of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's long-time president, Cairo has seen mass demonstrations, tanks on the streets and protesters killed and injured.

"It's not a constitutional crisis it's actually a great blessing for Egypt and for all Egyptians to have a referendum on their first post-revolutionary constitution that has been drafted by a democratically elected panel that represents all sections and currents in Egyptian society."

- Sondos Asem, Freedom and Justice party

Opinions remain largely divided about the powers of the man in charge - and the future direction of the country.

Almost two years on now from the uprising, Egyptians are being asked to vote in a referendum setting out the terms of a new constitution.

Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian president, defended his decision to press ahead with the referendum, in a nationally televised speech:

"The nation is ready for the referendum on time. If the people agree, then they will start building institutions upon this foundation. If it is rejected, I will use my authority and duty to create a new constitutional assembly based on an agreement or on direct elections for a new assembly. I will never allow anyone to kill or destroy a public foundation. I will not allow those calling for the overthrow of the people's legitimate government, the free design that Egyptians have taken."

"It's quite a fallacy to say there will be stability after this referendum. If the referendum goes with a 'yes' result the challengers of the constitutionality of the results will continue to push for real results. President Morsi had immuned his decisions because he knew the constitutional court would have issued a statement saying that the constitutional assembly was actually unconstitutional - which makes the whole process unconstitutional. "

-Ahmed Naguib, Egyptian Current Party

Prominent opposition leader Mohamed el-Baradei is urging supporters to vote 'No' in Saturday's vote on the draft constitution:

"No matter the outcome of the referendum, so I can be clear, the referendum is void, the constitution is void. We will continue to work towards the downfall of this constitution, before the referendum and after, in every legal, peaceful, and democratic method available."

The draft constitution is a weighty document, which critics argue, many people have not even read. It sets out a series of broad principles, governing democracy, freedom of thought and expression and the rule of law.

So will Egypt's referendum help resolve the country's constitutional crisis?

Inside Story, with presenter Ghida Fakhry, speaks to guests: Sondos Asem of the Freedom and Justice party, who is a member of the party's foreign relations committee; Ahmed Naguib, a member of the Egyptian Current Party, and of the "No to the militarisation of the constitution" campaign; and Mohamed Elewa Badar, a senior lecturer in International and Islamic Law at Brunel University. Previously he served as a Chief Judge for the Egyptian Ministry of Justice.


ARTICLES OF THE NEW CONSTITUTION:

  • Article 31 says: Dignity is the right of every human being, safeguarded by the state
  • Article 33: All citizens are equal before the law
  • Article 48 guarantees freedom of the media
  • Article 50: Citizens have the right to organise public meetings and peaceful demonstrations
  • Article 132 says the president looks after the interests of the people
  • Article 168: The Judicial Authority shall be independent
  • And Article 170 states that judges are independent, cannot be dismissed, and are subject to no other authority but the law.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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