Egypt's Islamists OK new draft constitution
President Mohammed Morsi said he expected to call for an almost immediate referendum on the draft constitution.
The New York Times
CAIRO — Racing against the threat of dissolution by judges appointed by ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and ignoring howls of protest from secular opponents, the Islamists drafting Egypt's new constitution voted Friday to approve a charter that human-rights groups and international experts said was full of ambiguities.
The result would fulfill some of the central demands of the revolution: the end of Egypt's all-powerful presidency, a stronger Parliament and bars on torture or detention without trial. But it also would give Egypt's generals much of the power and privilege they had during the Mubarak era.
Adding to the divisive atmosphere in Egypt, its passage came after almost all the delegates from secular parties and Coptic Christians walked out, and protesters took to the streets.
Dismissing the discord, President Mohammed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a televised interview Thursday that he expected to call for an almost immediate referendum on the draft constitution to help bring Egypt's chaotic political transition to a close: "a difficult birth from the womb of an ancient nation."
"We are going to get out of this short bottleneck hugging each other," he added.
But Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader and former U.N. diplomat, compared the proposed constitution to the charters that Egypt's former authoritarian rulers passed in rigged plebiscites.
"It will not survive," he said.
On the question of Islamic law's place in Egyptian jurisprudence, the assembly left unchanged a longstanding article at the beginning of the text grounding Egyptian law in the "principles of Islamic law."
In an attempted compromise between the ultraconservatives and their liberal opponents, the proposed constitution added a new article defining those principles in accordance with established schools of Sunni Muslim thought. Some liberals expressed fear that conservative Islamist judges and lawmakers could ultimately use the new clause to push Egypt to the right.
Egypt's generals, who seized power at Mubarak's ouster and who relinquished it to Morsi only in August, retain many of their prerogatives under the document. The defense minister would be chosen from the military's officers.
On individual rights, the constitution was a muddle. Believers in any of the three Abrahamic religions — Islam, Christianity and Judaism — were guaranteed the freedom of worship, but only those three.
The constitution calls for freedom from discrimination but does not specify whether women or religious minorities are protected. A provision on women's equality was left out after ultraconservatives insisted women's equality should be qualified by compliance with religious laws.
The text also offers no guidance about how to balance its broad protections of freedom of expression against other provisions protecting people or religions from insults.
In some places, the charter also provides for "society" as well as the state to play a role in upholding family values or moral standards, which critics said could open the door to vigilante pressure from self-appointed moral guardians.