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Egypt passes rushed draft of constitution amid popular anger

November 29, 2012|By Jeffrey Fleishman
  • Members of the constitutional assembly attend a session in Cairo to vote on a draft of a new Egyptian constitution.
Members of the constitutional assembly attend a session in Cairo to vote… (Mohammed Abu Zaid / Associated…)

CAIRO -- Egypt’s Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly passed a rushed draft of a constitution early Friday to ease public anger against President Mohamed Morsi’s expanded powers and preempt an expected court decision to disband it this weekend.

The proposed constitution states that the nation will be governed by the “principles” of Islamic law, the same wording that was in the constitution under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. But critics argue that certain language was open to interpretation and could allow conservative Islamists to impose a more rigid version of sharia law.

The draft was sent to the presidential palace. The quick action was planned to head off an anticipated ruling by the nation’s highest court to dissolve the assembly before its draft was complete. Morsi’s promise to protect the chamber from judicial oversight led to his decree last week to broaden his powers, which ignited protests against his rule across the country.

It is unlikely the demonstrations will stop even if Morsi rescinds his declaration now that he has a constitution to put to a public referendum in coming weeks. Anger is already shifting from the decree to the constitution, which opposition leaders criticized as not reflecting the will of secularists, women, Christians and other non-Muslims.

"I am saddened to see this come out while Egypt is so divided," Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei earlier told a private TV channel. He added that the charter would end up becoming “part of political folklore and will go to the garbage bin of history."

Dozens of secularists and Christians had boycotted the assembly in recent months, leaving the majority Islamists with a relatively free hand. The draft constitution states that Egypt is a Muslim nation and that -- for the first time in the republic’s history -- parliament must consult clerics at Al Azhar mosque, a revered institution in Sunni Islam, on legislation “related to Islamic sharia.”

Ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafis, were pressing for the document, which contains 230 articles, to explicitly state that sharia was the “primary source” of legislation. But moderates in the Muslim Brotherhood opted for less strict wording.

"Having the article that says only ‘principles’ of Islamic sharia and not ‘sharia is the base of legislation’ is unacceptable," Said Farag, a Salafi member of the Islamic Coalition for Rights Support, told Ahram Online news website.

The Supreme Constitutional Court was expected to rule Sunday on whether to dissolve the assembly amid accusations that it was unrepresentative. The court disbanded the original assembly in April on similar grounds. The case has become a test in the separation of powers between Morsi and his Islamist supporters and the courts and opposition parties over a document that sets the tone of the country’s political future.  

"The only way to break the current impasse is to listen to the pulse of the street, as opposed to following a group [the Muslim Brotherhood] that has attempted to steal the revolution," said a statement from an alliance of opposition parties. "Morsi has exceeded Mubarak by attempting to drive the country into civil war, for which only he will be held responsible."

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Special correspondent Reem Abdellatif contributed to this report

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