Protests erupt after new Egypt constitution passed

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 30 2012 7:49 a.m. MST

In the session's final hours, several new articles were hastily written up and swiftly voted on to resolve lingering issues. One significant change would reduce the size of the Supreme Constitutional Court by nearly a third to 11 judges, removing several younger, sharply anti-Brotherhood judges.

The voting ended just after sunrise Friday, to a round of applause from the members.

"This constitution represents the diversity of the Egyptian people. All Egyptians, male and female, will find themselves in this constitution," Essam el-Erian, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared.

"We will implement the work of this constitution to hold in high esteem God's law, which was only ink on paper before, and to protect freedoms that were not previously respected," he said.

But the opposition denounced the vote as a farce.

Speaking on private Al-Nahar TV on Thursday, Egypt's top reform leader, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei predicted the document "will go to the garbage bin of history."

Among the protesters in Tahrir on Friday, Salwa Mustafa said the constitution was "cooked up."

"It was very strange the way they voted. None of the 80 had objections, and if one of them did accidently open his mouth, al-Ghiryani is there to shut him up," said Mustafa, an engineer.

Her daughter, Basma Mohieddin, marching with her, added, "We must not let this charter reach the referendum cause you know that people are easily fooled. We have to stop it right now and cancel it."

Speaking in an interview on state TV aired late Thursday, Morsi said the constitution's swift passage was necessary to get Egypt through a transitional period in which there has been no elected lower house of parliament. The courts dissolved the Brotherhood-led lower house elected last winter.

"The most important thing of this period is that we finish the constitution, so that we have a parliament under the constitution, elected properly, an independent judiciary, and a president who executes the law," Morsi said.

Rights group Amnesty International said Friday that the adopted text of the constitution has provisions that purport to protect rights but instead "mask new restrictions."

As in past constitutions, the new draft said the "principles of Islamic law" will be the basis of law.

Previously, the term "principles" allowed wide leeway in interpreting Shariah. But in the draft, a separate new article is added that seeks to define "principles" by pointing to particular theological doctrines and their rules. That could give Islamists the tool for insisting on stricter implementation of rulings of Shariah.

Another new article states that Egypt's most respected Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, must be consulted on any matters related to Shariah, a measure critics fear will lead to oversight of legislation by clerics.

The draft also includes bans on "insulting or defaming all prophets and messengers" or even "insulting humans" — broad language that analysts warned could be used to crack down on many forms of speech.

The draft says citizens are equal under the law but an article specifically establishing women's equality was dropped because of disputes over the phrasing.

One article underlines that the state will protect "the true nature of the Egyptian family ... and promote its morals and values." The phrasing suggests the state could prevent anything deemed to undermine the family.

"Women, who were barely represented in the assembly, have the most to lose from a constitution which ignores their aspirations, and blocks the path to equality between men and women. It is appalling that virtually the only references to women relate to the home and family," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's deputy director for the region.

The draft also preserves much of military's immunity from parliamentary scrutiny, putting its budget in the hands of the National Defense Council, which includes the president, the heads of the two houses of parliament and top generals.

The committee has been plagued by controversy from the start. It was created by the first parliament elected after Mubarak's ouster. But a first permutation of the assembly, also Islamist-dominated, was disbanded by the courts. A new one was created just before the lower house of parliament, also Brotherhood-led, was dissolved by the judiciary in June.

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Lee Keath contributed to this report.

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