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Egypt

Egypt's president calls vote on contested constitution

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has called a December 15 referendum on a constitution drafted by the Islamist-led assembly. The decree follows mass protests against the country's new constitutional charter.

Morsi called the referendum on Saturday after Egypt's assembly handed its final draft of the planned new constitution to the president for final approval. It is now expected to go to a popular referendum within two weeks.

The document has met with both internal and international protest. Opposition activists say the draft constitution, which was adopted following a marathon overnight session that ended in the early hours of Friday, raises serious concerns about human rights, including religious freedom.

Christians and more moderate Muslims had walked out of the constituent assembly before it voted to adopt the constitution. They complained that their opinions had gone unheard in the assembly, which is dominated by members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Demonstrations continue in Egypt

Among the provisions of the draft is an article that was retained from the old constitution, which defines “the principles of Shariah” as the main source of legislation. It also adds new Islamic references. The draft also includes a provision limiting any single president to just two, four-year terms and some civilian oversight of the country's military.

Amnesty International released a statement on Saturday saying the draft "raises concerns about Egypt's commitment to human rights treaties," and, "in the name of religion," ignores gender equality and restricts freedom of expression.

On Sunday, the country's highest court, the Supreme Judicial Council, said it was delaying a session to examine the legality of the constitutional assembly. Hundreds of Islamists gathered outside the court in protest against the session. The court cited "administrative" reasons, and did not set a new date to convene.

'Half-baked'

Thousands converged on Cairo Saturday in a show of support for Morsi, the recently passed draft constitution and a series of sweeping new powers he has gained through a recent controversial decree. The decree, passed on November 22, offers him immunity from judicial review of his actions, and legal immunity for the Islamist-dominated assembly that drafted the new constitution.

The rally, centered outside Cairo University, was called by Morsi's Islamist allies. Pro-Morsi protests were also staged in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the central province of Assiut.

Opposition protesters countered with demonstrations in Cairo against the president. The opposition called the new draft constitution, hastily adopted early Friday morning, "flawed" and "half baked."

One demonstrator died and 24 were injured when a tree fell near the stage near the university.

Claiming the revolution

The National Rescue Front - a coalition led by dissident former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi - has called on opponents to keep the pressure up. The group called for Egyptians to "reject the illegitimate" decree and the "void" draft constitution, stressing the right "to use any peaceful method to protest including a general strike and civil disobedience."

In an interview broadcast Thursday, Morsi said his new powers would expire once the constitution was ratified, which Islamists cite in his favor.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which fought alongside the secular opposition in the Tahrir Square protests of 2011, has since branded the opposition enemies of the revolution.

mkg/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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