Egyptian Assembly Rushes Through Constitution, Morsi's Powers Intact

 @MayaErgas
on November 30 2012 3:45 PM

Despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square chanting to bring down the regime and seeking to start a new revolution, on Friday morning the Egyptian assembly adopted its new constitution, with President Mohammed Morsi's immunity from judicial oversight intact. The constitution's passage was viewed by many to be rushed, so as to silence any opposition voices.

After 19 hours of debates and drafting, the head of the Assembly, Hassam al-Ghiriani, announced on live stream that the draft had been adopted unanimously, Al-Arabiya reported.

“We have finished working on Egypt’s constitution," he announced. "We will call the president today [Friday] at a reasonable hour to inform him that the assembly has finished its task and the project of the constitution is completed."

The draft will be sent to Morsi, and he is expected to approve it by Saturday. There will then be a popular referendum, possibly in mid-December.

Morsi has claimed that his new powers are temporary and will be relinquished after the popular vote, but the opposition isn't buying it, especially after being more or less left out of the entire drafting and voting process, Al-Jazeera said.

"The secular forces and the church and the judges are not happy with the constitution; the journalists are not happy, so I think this will increase tensions in the country," Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a Cairo University political science professor, told the Jerusalem Post. 

“This constitution is absolutely unrepresentative of the revolution,” Mohamed Abbas, founder of the Egyptian Current Party and member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, told Al-Monitor. “The only article of this constitution that addresses the revolution's demands is the political ban on members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party,”

On Friday, several Egyptian media outlets announced they would be staging a one-day strike to protest Morsi's new pharaonic powers, Al-Ahram reported. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also said in a public letter to Morsi that "this provision contravenes the fundamental notion of the rule of law by placing the president’s actions outside judicial scrutiny and not permitting any legal challenge, irrespective of its substance."

On Thursday night, Morsi defended his new powers in an interview with several state TV channels. “The constitutional declaration is very temporary, until the legislation is returned to the parliament,” said Morsi, as Al-Monitor translated.

There are several other controversial clauses in the constitution, including Article 219, which establishes Shariah as the "fundamental rules of jurisprudence," Al-Jazeera said. Language regarding the equal rights and treatment of women was also removed, including Article 10, which prohibited gender discrimination. 

Human Rights Watch condemned the changes, saying, "The state’s role should be confined to ensuring equality and nondiscrimination, without interfering with a woman’s choices about her life, family and profession or to justify discrimination on that basis." The statement also noted there was no language specifically prohibiting human trafficking.

Also of concern were restrictions on religious freedom and the trying of civilians by military tribunal, which is allowed in "crimes that harm the armed forces." The constitution declares Islam to be the state religion and severely restricts the ability of non-Muslims to establish places of worship, HRW added.

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