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Egypt Islamists hurriedly approve new constitution

Published on NewsOK Modified: November 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm •  Published: November 29, 2012
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The Constitutional Court's announcement that it would rule on the legitimacy of the assembly was a direct defiance of Morsi's edicts. It will also rule Sunday on whether to dissolve the upper house of parliament, which is overwhelmingly held by Islamists. Most of the nation's judges are on indefinite strike to protest the edicts.

It is not clear what would happen to the approved draft if the court dissolves the assembly. The crisis could move out of the realm of legal questions and even more into the more volatile street, to be decided by which side can bring the most support.

The opposition is considering whether to call for a boycott of any referendum on the constitution or to try to rally a "no" vote, said Hamdeen Sabahi, a National Salvation Front leader who ran in this year's presidential race and came in a surprisingly strong third.

"The people should not be made to choose between a dictatorial declaration or a constitution that doesn't represent all the people," he told independent ONTV, referring to Morsi's decrees. "He is pushing Egypt to more division and confrontation."

During Thursday's session, assembly head Hossam al-Ghiryani doggedly pushed the members to finish. When one article received 16 objections, he pointed out that would require postponing the vote 48 hours under the body's rules. "Now I'm taking the vote again," he said, and all but four members dropped their objections. In the session's final hours, several new articles were hastily written up and added to resolve lingering issues.

"We will teach this constitution to our sons," al-Ghiryani told the gathering.

Islamist members of the panel defended the fast tracking. Hussein Ibrahim of the Brotherhood said the draft reflected six months of debate, including input from liberals before they withdrew.

"People want the constitution because they want stability. Go to villages, to poorer areas, people want stability," he said.

Over the past week, about 30 members have pulled out of the assembly, with mainly Islamists brought in to replace some. As a result, every article passed overwhelmingly.

The draft largely reflects the conservative vision of the Islamists, with articles that rights activists, liberals and others fear will lead to restrictions on the rights of women and minorities and on civil liberties in general.

One article that passed underlined that the state will protect "the true nature of the Egyptian family ... and promote its morals and values," phrasing that suggests the state could prevent anything deemed to undermine the family.

The draft says citizens are equal under the law but an article specifically establishing women's equality was dropped because of disputes over the phrasing.

As in past constitutions, the new draft said the "principles of Islamic law" will be the basis of law.

Previously, the term "principles" allowed wide leeway in interpreting Shariah. But in the draft, a separate new article is added that seeks to define "principles" by pointing to particular theological doctrines and their rules. That could give Islamists the tool for insisting on stricter implementation of rulings of Shariah.

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

The draft also includes bans on "insulting or defaming all prophets and messengers" or even "insulting humans" — broad language that analysts warned could be used to crack down on many forms of speech.

It also preserves much of military's immunity from parliamentary scrutiny, putting its budget in the hands of the National Defense Council, which includes the president, the heads of the two houses of parliament and top generals.

The committee has been plagued by controversy from the start. It was created by the first parliament elected after Mubarak's ouster. But a first permutation of the assembly, also Islamist-dominated, was disbanded by the courts. A new one was created just before the lower house of parliament, also Brotherhood-led, was dissolved by the judiciary in June.

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Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Lee Keath contributed to this report.