Egypt’s draft constitution strengthens army, to be concluded Thursday

Posted on Nov 28 2013 - 5:25pm by IBC News
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CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s new constitution would strengthen the army’s hand and could ban Islamist parties outright, according to a final draft published in state media, and the assembly writing the text said it was poised to finish its work on Thursday.
One human rights lawyer said it reinforced the army’s status of state within a state.
A referendum on the constitution expected in December would be a milestone in the army’s plan for political transition after it deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.
The process would culminate in parliamentary and presidential elections next year.
One protester was killed on Thursday in clashes between Mursi supporters and security forces at Cairo University, a reminder of tensions simmering at the surface of Egyptian political life. The government passed a law on Sunday that restricts demonstrations.
The new constitution would replace the one signed into law by Mursi last year after it was passed in a referendum. That constitution was suspended when Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, was deposed after protests against his rule.
“The head of the committee will announce the completion of the articles of the constitution at the end of the committee’s mission later today,” Mohamed Salmawy, spokesman for the 50-member assembly, said in a televised news conference.
The assembly chaired by former Arab League chief Amr Moussa has only two Islamists, one of them a member of the hardline Nour Party and the other a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who backed the army’s move against Mursi.
The Brotherhood, the focus of a fierce crackdown since Mursi’s downfall, has declared the entire political roadmap null and void, saying it is the result of a military coup.
While the last constitution largely preserved the military’s privileges, the new draft appears to go further.
A text published by the state-run al-Ahram newspaper on Thursday says the choice of defence minister must be approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for a period of eight years from the time the constitution is passed into law.
“This means that the army will be a state inside the state,” human rights lawyer Gamal Eid said.
It also allows for civilians to be tried in military courts – a holdover from previous constitutions and a major source of friction with pro-democracy activists who earlier this week held protests against the provisions.
The 50-member assembly was appointed by the interim President Adly Mansour. By contrast, the previous constitution was drawn up by a body whose composition was decided by the outcome of parliamentary elections won by Islamists.
The draft does away with Islamist-inspired language written into the last constitution. Salmawy said the Nour Party had objected to the draft’s language on sharia, or Islamic law, and the “civilian nature of the state”. Nour Party officials said they were waiting for the final version before commenting.
It also bans any party founded on “a religious basis” – possibly paving the way for the outright dissolution of the Nour, which won a fifth of the seats in parliament in the laat legislative elections, coming second to the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has already been driven underground.
Salmawy said mass protests ahead of Mursi’s ouster had signalled the public’s opposition to a “religious state”. The new constitution’s preamble declared Egypt “a modern democratic state under civilian rule”, he added.
The Islamists have yet to say whether they will try to rally a no vote against the constitution. For the Brotherhood, that would amount to tacit recognition of the new political process.

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