Egypt starts on new constitution
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Egypt’s interim president on Saturday named a ten-person committee of judges and law professors to amend the country’s constitution, which was suspended by the military during the ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi.
Egypt’s interim president named a committee of legal experts Saturday to propose amendments to the country’s Islamist-drafted constitution after a popularly backed military coup ousted the country’s first freely elected president.
It is the latest push by the country’s new leadership to move ahead with a military-backed timetable for a return to democratic rule despite determined protests by former President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters over his ouster. The drafting of Egypt’s constitution was one of the most divisive issues that came to characterize Morsi’s first and only year in office.
His Muslim Brotherhood group officially has refused to negotiate with the new government, saying they are open for talks only after Morsi is reinstated. They say the only legitimate constitution is the one voted on and ratified by Morsi in December.
Liberals twice walked out of committees drafting the charter under Morsi, complaining that the Brotherhood and its allies dominated the process and stifled their suggestions.
Protests over the constitution and the direction of the country turned deadly after Morsi issued temporary decrees in late November that put himself and the drafting committee above judicial oversight. The charter was then finalized in a rushed overnight session and passed in a nationwide referendum. The military suspended the constitution after the July 3 coup.
In a decree Saturday, interim President Adly Mansour appointed the 10-member committee that will propose amendments to the constitution. The committee is comprised of six judges - two from the Supreme Constitutional Court that Adly headed - and four constitutional law professors.
Committee members have 30 days to suggest amendments. A second committee, comprised of 50 public figures including politicians, unionists and religious figures, will then have 60 days to review those amendments.
After that, citizens will vote on the proposed amendments in a referendum, according to the military-backed timetable. Parliamentary elections are to follow.
Unlike the previous drafting committee under Morsi, at least 20 percent of the second committee is to be represented by young Egyptians who helped galvanize street movements and women.
Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a leading figure in the Tamarod petition drive that mobilized the massive street protests that led to Morsi’s ouster, said his group has launched a new initiative to collect suggestions from Egyptians on the constitution.
“We want to reach a constitution that is representative of the people’s will,” Abdel-Aziz told The Associated Press. He declined to comment on which articles the group wants amended.
However, violent protests and continued instability threaten to derail the timetable.
A security official said unidentified assailants threw a bomb Saturday at a police station in the governorate of Ismailiya, between Cairo and the volatile northern region of the Sinai Peninsula. Part of the building and a police vehicle were damaged, but no injuries were reported, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Clashes between protesters and security forces have erupted into violence several times since Morsi’s ouster, killing more than 60 people. The most recent incident occurred Friday night in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura when unidentified assailants opened fire at a Brotherhood-led march, sparking a melee that killed three female protesters, authorities said.
The Brotherhood said two were killed by gunshot and one died after suffocating on tear gas. Medical officials said the protesters’ bodies were examined Saturday.
Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi and Vice President Mohammed ElBaradei condemned the incident in separate posts on Twitter, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice. No arrests have been announced.
The Brotherhood said the killings “sheds light on the bloody nature of dictatorship and the police state under a military coup.”
Authorities are clamping down on the group, accusing its top leaders of inciting violence while arresting eight top Islamist figures, including the former Brotherhood speaker of parliament. Prosecutors issued another arrest warrant Saturday for the Brotherhood’s top figure, Mohammed Badie, and four others. The latest warrants accused them of inciting violence with police that led to the deaths of seven pro-Morsi supporters in Cairo this week.
Morsi has been held incommunicado at an undisclosed military facility since his ouster. He has not been charged with any crime.
The Brotherhood’s television channel and others sympathetic to the group have been taken off the air. On Saturday, security officials said that police raided the Iranian Alalam TV station and arrested its manager. Authorities said the station did not have the proper permits to operate in Egypt. An employee at the station told BBC Arabic that they had applied for permits, but, as has happened with other stations in the past, authorities delayed issuing them licenses to operate.
Rights groups have criticized the clampdown on media and Morsi’s detention, as well as the deaths of dozens of protesters in recent weeks.
In another sign of the interim government’s drive to move on with the transition, Jordan’s King Abdullah met with the country’s president, army chief and other top figures Saturday in the first visit by a head of state to Cairo since the coup. The king expressed his support for the “national choices” made by Egyptians, according to a statement released by the Egyptian presidency.
Jordan’s government had been concerned with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and disruptions to gas exports due to militant attacks on a pipeline in the northern Sinai. The Jordanian offshoot of Egypt’s Brotherhood has also driven street protests against the government in Amman.
Additionally, Egypt’s new foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said Egypt continues to support the Syrian uprising but has no intention of supporting a jihad - or holy war - in the nation. Fahmy said that “everything will be re-evaluated” regarding the country’s stance toward Syria. Morsi had severed diplomatic ties with Damascus just weeks before his ouster.
Fahmy also said Cairo is also “seriously assessing” its relations with the Syrian regime’s key regional backer Iran. Morsi moved to improve diplomatic ties with Tehran.
Meanwhile, the ministry’s spokesman Badr Abdel-Aaty said Saturday Egypt is “very concerned” that Ethiopia has not replied to requests to take part in technical consultations in Cairo over its construction of a Nile dam. The project could leave Egypt with a dangerous water shortage.