x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Egypt sets up draft constitution referendum

Panel that amended a constitution drafted under the former Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, holds final meeting ahead of handing over draft constitution to interim president.

CAIRO // Egypt’s interim president today will begin planning for a referendum on a draft constitution that allows parliament to remove the president by a majority vote.

The panel that amended a constitution drafted under the former Islamist president Mohammed Morsi held a final meeting yesterday ahead of handing over the document to Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, who will set a date for a nationwide vote to ratify it.

The draft calls for elections, parliamentary or presidential, within 90 days after the adoption of the constitution. The other election should be held up to six months later. The ambivalence is thought to be designed to give Mr Mansour legal leeway if he chooses to call for a presidential election ahead of the parliamentary vote.

The road map provides for the parliamentary elections to be held first.

The charter requires presidents to declare their financial assets annually, and empowers members of parliament to vote out an elected president with a two-third majority.

It also bans parties founded on religion or sect and unequivocally states the equality of men and women.

It also guarantees the rights of Egyptians with special needs and the elderly.

Adoption of the new charter will be a giant step in the implementation of the road map announced by the nation’s military chief when he removed Mr Morsi from power on July 3 following days of protests calling for the president to resign.

The next steps will be parliamentary and presidential elections in the spring and summer of 2014.

The last constitution was ratified by about 64 per cent, but with a lowly turnout rate of a little more than 30 per cent. Approval by a higher percentage and a strong turnout will constitute a vote of confidence in the road map.

The panel, appointed by Mr Mansour, is dominated by secular-leaning figures. But it includes several Islamists, including one from an ultraconservative party, and representatives from Al Azhar, Sunni Islam’s foremost seat of learning, and Christian churches. Activists from Tamarod, a youth movement that rallied millions of Egyptians demanding that Mr Morsi step down, also sat on the 50-member panel.

The panel held its final deliberations in private but the voting on Saturday and Sunday was televised live.

An upbeat mood prevailed in yesterday’s meeting, with members of the panel praising the document as historic and a reflection of Egyptians’ hopes.

“It is now the right of every Egyptian to declare that this is their constitution,” said Anba Paula, the representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Another member, the veteran lawyer and head of the Bar Association Sameh Ashour said: “This constitution may not reflect the expectations of all Egyptians, but it is a safety valve for the revolution at this transitional phase.”

Mr Morsi’s supporters say the constitution’s drafting is illegitimate because of his removal. Other non-Islamist critics say constitutional guarantees of political rights mean little if state institutions are not committed to upholding them, and worry that a recently enacted law restricting political protests shows the government’s desire to crack down on opponents.

Several members who spoke in yesterday’s meeting said a great deal of work lies ahead.

Mahmoud Badr of Tamarod said his grass-root movement will return to the streets to rally a “yes” vote on the new charter. Another member, film director Khaled Youssef, said the panel should now work as a body promoting national unity and working to safeguard the alliance of liberal and secular groups that supported Mr Morsi’s ousting.

* Associated Press