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Egypt Draft Constitution Ready for Referendum

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December 4, 2013

Egypt's new draft constitution now heads to a referendum, after a 50-member drafting panel approved all 245 articles of the revised governmental blueprint.

The panel, headed by former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, forwarded the draft constitution to interim President Adly Mansour, who will set a date for the referendum. Voting is expected early in 2014.

Significantly, the draft constitution puts the appointment of the country's defense minister in the hands of the military, not the president, for the next two four-year presidential terms and exempts the military from judicial and economic oversight. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, head of the army and interim defense minister, is widely expected to run for president.

Mohamed Morsi, elected in 2011 and ousted in 2013, was the first non-military president in the modern history of the country.

The draft constitution does not specify that parliamentary elections will precede presidential elections, although that is what happened in 2011, the last time a draft constitution, parliament, and president were approved or elected.

The draft also prohibits the establishment of political parties based on religion, a direct challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, and Al-Nour, which dominated membership in the last parliament. Mansour will soon announce in what order elections take place. He will remain in power until a new president is inaugurated.

Rights groups found a bit to like in the draft constitution, including an assertion that freedom of belief was "absolute," in essence discouraging discrimination based on religious beliefs, and a provision guaranteeing equality between men and women, to result in women's representation in public office and, more significantly, for women to be protected against "any form of violence."

Among the other provisions of the draft constitution:

Civilians will not be tried before military tribunals unless they directly attack armed forces. A recently passed protest law has proved deeply unpopular.

Anyone arrested must be referred to interrogators within 24 hours, lawyers must be present at interrogations, and those arrested will have the right to remain silent and even appeal a detention order, with the caveat that if the appeal is not acted on within a week, the arrestee can go free.

The president will appoint a prime minister and a Cabinet within 60 days of election. If Parliament fails twice to support the president's choice for prime minister, the president has the power to disband Parliament. Conversely, Parliament has the power to remove the president from power, either through prosecution or through a no-confidence vote followed by early elections, after a two-thirds majority vote and a referendum.

Mentions of parliament in the draft constitution do not include the Shura Council, the upper house. Presumably, then, the lower house, the House of Representatives, will retain primary legislation-making power.

Egypt will continue to be bound by all international agreements currently enforced.

 

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