Egypt panel begins vote on new charter
Committee to vote today on constitution some claim will unfairly strengthen the military
A 50-member panel drafting Egypt’s new constitution began on Saturday voting on the new charter seen by some as strengthening the army’s position in the country’s future political life.
The panel approved the charter’s preamble and the a number of introductory Articles, including Article 2 which states that the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.
The representative of the Salafist Nour Party walked out of the voting session, in what the media’s official Nader Bakkar said did not amount to a complete withdrawal from the panel.
“Being absent from voting on an Article does not mean withdrawing form the panel,” Bakkar told Al Arabiya News Channel.
The draft version of the constitution published by the state-run al-Ahram newspaper on Thursday says the choice of defense 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.
It also allows military trials for civilians accused of “direct attacks” on the armed forces.
Dissenters fear this provision could be interpreted expansively to target protesters, journalists and dissidents.
Article 203 says that “no civilian can be tried by military judges, except for crimes of direct attacks on armed forces, military installations and military personnel.”
It also ensures that the military’s budget remains beyond civilian scrutiny.
One human rights lawyer said the document reinforces the army’s status of being “a state inside a state.”
“This means that the army will be a state inside the state,” human rights lawyer Gamal Eid told Reuters.
But the chairman of the panel, Amr Moussa, told reporters that the articles concerning the army are “transitional due to the current condition.”
He said there was a “full agreement” between the 50 committee members on the document.
“The vote on the draft will last one or two days,” state media quoted the panel’s deputy head, Kamal al-Helbawi, as saying, before members began voting later on Saturday.
The panel began work on drafting the basic law at the beginning of September.
The road map stipulates that a referendum on the constitution be held by the end of the year, but government officials have said this is now expected in the second half of January.
Its adoption will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections due to take place by the middle of 2014.
Egypt’s interim rulers suspended the previous constitution after Mursi was removed following just one year in office. That charter had been hastily drafted by a 100-member panel dominated by Islamists during Mursi's presidency.
The current panel includes just two Islamists, neither of whom is from Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement which has been the target of a sweeping government crackdown that has seen more than 1,000 people killed.
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