EGYPT: ISLAMISTS APPROVED A DRAFT CONSTITUTION
November 30, 2012: An Islamist-dominated council approved a draft constitution for Egypt, which rights experts say could give Muslim clerics oversight over legislation and bring restrictions on freedom of speech, women's rights and other liberties.
The assembly that has been working on the constitution for months raced to pass it, voting article by article on the draft's more than 230 articles for more than 16 hours. Voting had not been expected for another two months. But the assembly abruptly moved it up in order to pass the draft before Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court rules on 1st December on whether to dissolve the panel.
Islamists approved the draft constitution without the participation of liberal and Christian members.
Of the 85 members in attendance, there was not a single Christian and only four women, all Islamists. Many of the men wore beards, the hallmark of Muslim conservatives.
The draft must now be put to a nationwide referendum within 30 days. President Morsi said it will be held "soon."
The draft largely reflects the conservative vision of the Islamists.
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" ā 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.
"This constitution represents the diversity of the Egyptian people. All Egyptians, male and female, will find themselves in this constitution," Essam el-Erian, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared to the assembly after the last articles were passed. "We will implement the work of this constitution to hold in high esteem God's law, which was only ink on paper before, and to protect freedoms that were not previously respected," he said.
"I am saddened to see this come out while Egypt is so divided," Egypt's top reform leader, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed El Baradei said, speaking on private Al-Nahar TV. But he predicted the document would not last long. "It will be part of political folklore and will go to the garbage bin of history." (Sources: CNN, huffingtonpost.com, 30/11/2102)