Egypt’s new constitution gets mixed reaction

Several articles of the new Egyptian constitution have sparked controversy around the country

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The new Egyptian constitution, which will be put to a nationwide referendum on Jan. 14 and 15 - as announced by interim President Adly Mansour on Saturday - has been met with mixed public reactions.

While some say it is better than the one that existed under former President Mohamed Mursi, others say it hands too much power to the military.

According to the document, military courts may try civilians for a range of crimes related to the army, including direct assaults on military zones, facilities, equipment and borders.

“In a normal situation, there’s no such thing as military trials, but given the current situation in Egypt it’s tolerable,” Sabri el-Sennoussi, professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, told Al Arabiya News.

“The 50-member-committee should’ve added ‘in exceptional cases’ in the article to make it less controversial,” he added.

The charter fails to guarantee any level of transparency for the armed forces’ budget or details of its vast economic empire, Sennoussi said.

The constitution also grants the military the right to choose the defense minister, who will remain in power for the next eight years, which “places the military above civilian oversight for the next two presidential terms,” he added.

Jihad Oudah, professor of political science at Helwan University and the British University in Egypt, told Al Arabiya News that the committee seems unclear about certain parts of the charter, as they keep repeating that “the necessary measures will be taken according to the situation.”

This may lead to “more confusion in the future,” he added.

The new constitution has drawn criticism from activists and human rights groups, as it upholds an article that approval must be obtained prior to staging protests or rallies.

“It is a harsh law, especially given the fact that it has been created to prevent Egyptians from protesting,” Oudah said.

The law, which was passed by interim President Adly Mansour last month, has driven angry protesters to the streets, resulting in sporadic clashes with security forces and several arrests.

Nevertheless, the law has been positively received by those who see it as a means to bring calm and order to the streets of Egypt.

“I’m very welcoming of this law, especially in these circumstances… Protesters need to respect the national authorities,” Sennoussi said.

“Protesters will paralyze traffic, production and the economy, and affect the rights of other civilians,” he added.

Some analysts say there are positive economic aspects of the charter.

“The budgets allocated to the health, research and development, and education sectors have notably increased,” Sameh Rashed, journalist and political analyst at al-Ahram Institute, told Al Arabiya News.

“The budget for health, for instance, has doubled, while the research and development budget has increased 10-fold,” he added.

“The new charter is trying to please everyone, especially minorities, by giving them more rights” and treating citizens equally, Rashed said.

The prohibition of religion-based political parties is seen by the Muslim Brotherhood as a means to sideline the movement’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

However, Sennoussi said: “This article was already present in the constitutions of 2012 and 1971, as well as the amendments that were brought to the constitution in 2007 under the Mubarak regime.”

El-Nour party, Egypt’s main Salafist bloc and the second-largest winner in last year’s parliamentary elections, will publicly back the draft constitution and urge its supporters to vote yes in the national referendum.

Shaaban Abdul Aleem, a major figure in the party, told Al Arabiya News that its approval is mainly due to the new draft’s preservation of “the Islamic identity of Egypt.”

The new draft preserves Article 2 of the 2012 constitution, which says: “Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.”

The Brotherhood, however, has strongly rejected the new draft, saying “abusive putsches” are attempting to “distort Egypt’s legitimate [2012] constitution,” the London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported.

The Brotherhood has called on its supporters to boycott the referendum.

Some experts say the draft constitution will likely be approved by the referendum.

“All Egyptians want to see the end of this transitional phase that has had a negative impact on them and their interests,” Hassan abu Taleb, an expert at al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al Arabiya News.
Most Egyptians are ready to compromise in order for a constitution to be adopted, he added.

However, it is unclear how many Egyptians will vote in the referendum, the seventh nationwide ballot since the Jan. 2011 revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak.

Amr Moussa, head of the drafting committee, said he hopes for a “huge” turnout and a 70% yes vote.

The draft constitution is an important first step in implementing a political transition laid down by the military after it ousted Mursi.

If approved, it would replace the controversial constitution passed by the 2012 referendum seven months before his ouster.

In the roadmap presented by the interim government in July, parliamentary elections in the spring and a presidential vote by early summer are expected after the approval of the constitution.

However, the draft charter allows Mansour to call for presidential elections before those for parliament.

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