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article imageOp-Ed: Egyptian constituent assembly approves draft constitution

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By Ken Hanly     Nov 30, 2012 in Politics
Cairo - Egypt's constituent assembly has approved a draft constitution after a marathon session. The assembly has been boycotted both by liberals and Christians.
This sudden approval of the draft constitution is bound to cause more conflict within Egypt. The new draft has an article requiring legislation be based upon "principles of Islamic law" and adds that al-Azhar, a leading Islamic institution, must be consulted on issues related to Shariah. The article on the source of legislation is virtually the same as the Mubarak era constitution except that it adds a clause that would refer matters regarding Sharia to al-Azhar. Many critics believe that this reference will lead to oversight of the law by clerics.
Another article, promises that the state will protect "the true nature of the Egyptian family ... and promote its morals and values." Perhaps this section will be used to censor material that might be counter to the true nature of the Egyptian family--whatever that may be. The section seems an open invitation to crack down on almost any unpopular literature or art.
There is nothing in the constitution that specifically states that men and women are equal. However, it does have a section that says that a woman must balance her work duties with those towards her family and suggests that she could be held accountable if her public role should conflict with her family obligations. No doubt these obligations are those reflecting the true nature of the Egyptian family!
The head of the assembly, Hossam al-Gheriani, said that the draft text of 234 articles will be sent to President Morsi. There should be a referendum on the draft within 2 weeks. This seems a very short period of time for public discussion of the draft. The whole episode appears to be a rush job. There could be conflict too between the judiciary and Morsi. The judiciary may want to invalidate the whole process.
Reporting from Tahrir Square, Sherine Tadros of Al Jazeera said that the draft was being referred to as "The Muslim Brotherhood constitution". She said:"People have already gathered here to join the thousands gathered in a sit-in for much of the past week. They're here to protest against the recent decrees of the president, but also now against this draft constitution passed last night by the constituent assembly.They're not just upset with the content, but the way in which it was rushed through. [Only] 85 out of the 100 members were actually present in that vote, the rest boycotted because they said their concerns were not being listened to. So you had a situation where most of the liberal secular forces weren't involved, weren't consulted all the way through this process and weren't voting at the last moment. There wasn't a single Christian member voting in that assembly last night, despite the fact that Christians make up more than 10 per cent of the population here, and there were only four women of the 100 member body - and all those four women belong to religious parties, the Salafi and the Muslim Brotherhood party. So for the people here at least, this constitution is tainted, it's not being seen as Egypt's constitution, but as the Muslim Brotherhood's constitution, and if at the end of the day the constitution is the foundation of a state, then, if this constitution is adopted, then we're on very shaky ground in this country."
The new constitution does limit the presidential term of office, ending the unlimited tenure of the Mubarak era, who was able to rule for 30 years. The opposition claims that the constitution was railroaded through to a quick referendum.
Critics worry that even such basic articles as banning slavery or promises to keep international rights treaties are missing from the articles.
One article bans all insults to the prophet or messengers. This alone would restrict freedom of speech but even worse there is no definition of what constitutes an insult. Another article, bans insulting or defaming humans, an even broader restriction on freedom of expression, with no definition of what constitutes an insult or defamation.
Another article allows the military to try civilians before military tribunals in crimes that harm the armed forces. Protesters had demanded that this practice stop. Perhaps this shows that Morsi is making deals with the military to ensure their support. The transitional government had tried 11,000 civilians during the transition period, more than Mubarak. This was a continuing issue for reformers.
Another article limits religious freedom to followers of Abrahamic religions, Christian, Jews, and Muslims. Other religions such as Bahais could very well be persecuted.
Morsi's recent decree that his decisions are not subject to judicial review will prevent courts from attempting to annul the work of the constituent assembly as happened after parliamentary elections. Morsi says that to delay the referendum on the constitution would be to also delay the democratic transition. What democratic transition?
Given that there is a Muslim majority in Egypt, it is quite possible that the referendum on the constitution will pass. In that sense, it will be democratic as approved by the majority. However, in terms of providing democratic rights it will not.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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