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Africa

Constitution in final draft as protests sweep Egypt

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-11-29

The assembly writing Egypt’s constitution has said it is nearing a final draft, a move welcomed by the Muslim Brotherhood as a way to calm protesters who say President Mohamed Morsi’s recent decree grants him dictatorial powers.

The assembly writing Egypt’s constitution said it could finish a final draft on Wednesday, a move the Muslim Brotherhood sees as a way out of a crisis over a decree by President Mohamed Morsi that protesters say gives him nearly absolute powers.

But as Morsi’s opponents demonstrated for a sixth day in Tahrir Square, critics said the Islamist-dominated assembly’s bid to finish the constitution quickly could make matters worse.

Two people have been killed and hundreds injured in countrywide protests set off by Morsi’s decree.

The Brotherhood hopes to end the crisis by replacing Morsi’s controversial decree with an entirely new constitution that would need to be approved in a popular referendum, a Brotherhood official told Reuters.

The Islamists believe they can mobilise enough voters to win the referendum, as they have won all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power almost two years ago.

Deepen divisions?

But the move seemed likely to deepen divisions that are being exposed in the street.

The constitution is one of the main reasons Morsi is at loggerheads with non-Islamist opponents (Christians and liberals). Those opponents are boycotting the 100-member constitutional assembly, saying the Islamists have tried to impose their vision for Egypt’s future.

Just last week, Morsi gave the assembly an additional two months -- until February -- to complete its work.

Still, Hossam el-Gheriyani, the assembly speaker, said at the start of its latest session in Cairo that they were close to a definitive version of the text.

“If you are upset by the decree, nothing will stop it except a new constitution issued immediately,” he said.

Three other members of the assembly told Reuters there were plans to put the document to a vote on Thursday.

More clashes in Tahrir Square

Just down the road from the meeting convened at the Shura Council, protesters were again clashing with riot police in Tahrir Square.

“The constitution is in its last phases and will be put to a referendum soon and God willing it will solve a lot of the problems in the street,” said Talaat Marzouk, an assembly member from the Salafi Nour Party, as he watched the images.

But Wael Ghonim, a prominent activist whose online blogging helped ignite the anti-Mubarak uprising, said a constitution passed under such circumstances would “entrench authoritarianism”.

Other rights activists echoed that assessment, with the Human Rights Watch Egypt director, Heba Morayef, telling AFP: “This is not a healthy moment to be pushing through a constitution, because this is an extremely divisive moment.”

Morayef added that there were “serious concerns” about some of the provisions in the latest drafts of the constitution.

The constitution is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new, democratic Egypt following Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule. It will determine the powers of the president and parliament and define the roles of the judiciary and a military establishment that had been at the heart of power for decades until Mubarak was toppled.

It will also set out the role of Islamic law, or sharia.

Once drafted, the constitution will go to Morsi for approval, and he must then put it to a referendum within 15 days, which could mean the vote would be held by mid-December.

Courts go on strike

Complicating the crisis further on Wednesday, Egypt’s Cassation and Appeals courts said they would suspend their work until the constitutional court ruled on the decree.

The judiciary, largely unreformed since the popular uprising that unseated Mubarak, was seen as a major target in the decree issued last Thursday, which extended Morsi’s powers and put his decisions temporarily beyond legal challenge.

Morsi’s administration insists that his actions were aimed at breaking a political logjam to push Egypt more swiftly towards democracy, an assertion his opponents dismiss.

A constitution must be in place before a new parliament can be elected, and until that time Morsi holds both executive and legislative powers.

An election could take place in early 2013.

(FRANCE 24 with wires.)

Date created : 2012-11-28

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