Egyptians Protest After Committee Approves Draft Constitution

Egypt Committee Approves Draft Constitution as Protests Planned
Members of Egypt's constituent assembly during the last voting session on a new draft constitution at the Shoura Assembly in Cairo. Photographer: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian opposition supporters held protests in Cairo and other cities against a draft constitution they say has been hijacked by Islamists.

Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square chanted demands for President Mohamed Mursi to quit, television footage showed. There were also rallies in Alexandria and the industrial city of Mahalla, after the constitutional committee approved a draft charter early today. Secularists, youth groups and Christians have said the panel was weighted toward Islamists, and several members had withdrawn.

The draft will be referred to Mursi tomorrow, the state-run Middle East News Agency cited committee head Hossan el-Gheriani as saying. The draft constitution maintains the principle of Islamic law as the primary source of legislation while dropping a specific mention of protecting women’s rights.

Tensions boiled over in the past week with mass demonstrations against Mursi’s Nov. 22 edict that shields his decisions from legal review and gives the constitutional panel immunity from the judiciary. Mursi said the decree is temporary and not a power grab as critics contend.

The country’s highest court was due to take up a case challenging the body’s legitimacy next week.

“Mursi wants to put us before two bad choices,” Ashraf el-Sherif, adjunct lecturer in political science at the American University in Cairo, said by phone. “We either vote for this bad constitution or we get stuck with his dictatorial decrees that open the door for chaos and civil war.”

The draft charter will go to a public referendum after Mursi’s approval. A new round of parliamentary elections will be held afterward. The lower house of parliament was disbanded in June after a court ruled its election was unconstitutional.

Revolutionary Goals

Mursi defended his decrees in an interview on state television late yesterday, saying they were necessary, temporary and introduced to meet the goals of the revolutionaries who led last year’s uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

“The most important thing at this stage is for us to finish the constitution,” Mursi said. “When we have a permanent constitution, neither the head of the state nor anyone else will apply exceptional measures.”

When the constitution is established, “legislative powers will go to a parliament quickly and the president will hold only the executive powers,” Mursi said.

Putting the constitution to a referendum would be part of the “acts of sovereignty,” he said. “It’s impossible that a president who is elected like I am would use powers for oppression.”

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