friday, 30 november of 2012

Egyptian draft constitution passes

Egyptian constitution

Egyptian draft constitution passes; protesters vow return to the streets

As the sun rose over Cairo on Friday, an assembly charged with crafting Egypt's new constitution gave its final approval after 21 hours of haggling and the passage of all 234 articles.

The draft will be printed later in the day and presented to President Mohamed Morsy on Saturday, said Houssam al-Ghiryani, who heads the assembly.

But that doesn't mean Egypt's crisis is over.

The constitution, which would replace one scrapped in last year's revolution that led to Hosni Mubarak's ouster, needs to be approved by citizens.

And as they have for over a week, protesters are vowing to be out on the streets Friday.

Throngs have taken to the streets to protest not just the constitutional group led by Muslim Brotherhood members, but the man who once led the Islamist movement's political wing and is now Egypt's president.

Protests have been large, boisterous and occasionally violent. The opposition picked up steam after the president issued an edict last week that, among other things, made his decisions since taking office in June immune from judicial oversight.

The hasty nature of the call to approve the draft added to Egyptian's discontent.

The snap vote prompted several walkouts, reducing the number of originally 100 assembly delegates by 26. Eleven of them were absent without filing an official resignation and were replaced early Thursday. Eighty-five approved the draft.

Most of their replacements were members of the Brotherhood and allied Salafist Nour Party.

The the rest of the constitutional assembly members took the departing members into consideration when discussing the various articles, said Essam El-Erian, a senior presidential adviser.

Critics call the maneuvering a case of the Muslim Brotherhood trying to hijack the constitution less than two years after Mubarak's ouster. Others interpret the vote as a way to quickly defuse anger about the president's recent decree granting himself expanded presidential powers.

Morsy has appeared on state TV to promise Egyptians that his decrees would only apply to "sovereign" matters and go out of effect as soon as a new constitution is ratified in a public referendum.

He justified targeting the judiciary with an edict, accusing some judges of working to thwart gains made in the Arab spring uprising.

The assembly convened Thursday and continued through the night and well into Friday morning as members voted on each article separately, discussed objections by dissenters and undertook some alterations.

At the end of 21 hours, the assembly's head, Hossam al-Ghiriyani, asked the members if they agree to the 234 articles. After a show of hands, he said, "Agreement by consensus. May God bless you." The room broke into applause, and everyone stood for the playing of the national anthem.

Expert opinions on the new constitution ranged from angst to elation.

"The draft constitution will end the state of political division, because it will cancel the constitutional decrees that the president issued," said Dawood Basil, expert in constitutional law from Cairo University. "I feel overwhelming joy after hearing the final wording of the articles."

"All Egyptians -- of all background -- were taken into account when efforts were made to put together this draft," said Ramadan Battikh, professor of constitutional law at Ain Shams University.

Critics say the constitution could lead to excessive restrictions on certain rights, moving Egypt closer to Sharia law.

Heba Morayef, the Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, said "there aren't really any protections for women," for instance.

"As far as rights are concerned, the 1971 constitution was much better," said Dr. Mustapha Kamel Sayed, a Cairo University professor, referring to the old constitution still in place under Mubarak.

Some provisions distinctly protect individuals' civil rights, particularly in how they are treated by security forces and the judicial system.

They include wording to prevent arbitrary arrest and detention, and ensure due process by the courts, a sensitive topic in Egypt, as Mubarak and his loyalists are blamed for jailing and harshly mistreating innocents before and during last year's uprising.

Anyone jailed cannot be interrogated without their attorney present, and if they don't have one, the judicial system must appoint one.

Phone conversations, electronic correspondence and other communication cannot be tapped without a warrant.

Article 65 guarantees social security benefits to all Egyptians. Lawmakers could be seen applauding on Egyptian state TV after its approval.

As the constitutional debate unfolded, fresh clashes broke out Thursday between rowdy protesters and police in central Cairo.

The mayhem prompted the closure of the U.S. Embassy near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the current protests and those in 2011.

The Muslim Brotherhood has called for its own demonstration Saturday, in what would be the biggest public show of support for Morsy since he issued his controversial edict.

They will be joined on the streets Friday and likely Saturday by opposition protesters.

(Published by CNN - November 30, 2012)

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