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Islamist-leaning draft constitution divides Egypt

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 9, 2012 at 3:04 pm •  Published: December 9, 2012

A boycott would allow the opposition to claim the vote was illegitimate, especially if staying away from the polls significantly reduces turnout.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that the discipline and commitment of the hard-core Islamist voters would deliver the victory Morsi wants, citing his narrow win in June and the 25 percent of the vote he received in the presidential election's first round, when he ran in a field of 13 of mostly Islamist candidates.

But Morsi, the chief proponent of the document, may have succeeded in the past two weeks in rallying firmly behind him the entire spectrum of Islamist groups, not just his relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood.

"He faced the choice of losing his credibility or his popularity. He went for the latter," said al-Anani, alluding to Morsi's repeated promises in his early days in office that he would never put the constitution to a vote unless it enjoyed consensus.

The problem with the constitution began months before the current political crisis.

The predecessor of the panel that drafted the charter was dissolved when a court ruled that it was not inclusive enough. Similarly, the second one was dominated by Islamists, and the same court was widely expected to dissolve it in a session scheduled for Dec. 2.

In anticipation of such a ruling, the panel — packed with Morsi supporters and chaired by an Islamist — held an all-night session on Nov. 29-30 to adopt the document, voting overwhelmingly in favor of each of its 234 clauses.

Many Egyptians watched the session televised live with a mix of bemusement and horror as the chairman, career judge Hossam al-Ghiryani, doggedly pushed the members to finish, badgering some of them for wasting time arguing some of the clauses. In the session's final hours, several new articles were hastily written and added to resolve lingering issues. On Dec. 1, Al-Ghiryani gave the document to Morsi, who then called for the Dec. 15 referendum.

But the Islamists' job was not done.

They are now using their time-honored tactic of employing religion to influence the vote. That tactic was widely used in a March 2011 referendum on a constitutional declaration that the Islamists supported and again in the election for both chambers of parliament.

They say a "yes" vote is one for God, Islam and the faithful. A "no" vote is portrayed as being against them.

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

One article 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 intervene to prevent anything deemed a threat to families.

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

A new article added to the customary mention that "principles of Islamic law" provide the basis of legislation points to theological doctrines and their rules, wording that could give Islamists the tool for insisting on stricter implementation of Shariah rulings.

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

"This is not the constitution that will turn the page and usher in a new Egypt," said Hossam Bahgat, a legal expert and human rights lawyer. "The issue of the constitution will continue to be on the political agenda of Egypt with persistent calls to replace it with a more balanced one."