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Egypt

Muslim Brothers push ahead with constitution

In the face of stark opposition from non-Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood rushed through approval of a draft constitution. Protests planned for Saturday threaten to set off violence among Egypt's rival camps.

Egypt's constitutional assembly began working to pass a heavily criticized draft constitution on Thursday (29.11.2012). The assembly was made up almost entirely of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, since liberal and secular representatives had walked out of the assembly last week in protest at the controversial decree passed by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi

That decree gave the assembly an additional two months to write a constitution, but some see Morsi behind the recent push to get a draft finished, as he wants to ratify the document ahead of a ruling by the country's highest court that could declare the assembly null and void.

The Islamist-dominated panel vote on a final draft of a new Egyptian constitution in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012.
Photo:Mohammed Asad/AP/dapd

Islamists voted in favor of the draft during the assembly

Morsi's decree gave the assembly immunity from judicial oversight, but the impending ruling from the country's top judges could severely damage the constitution's credibility.

The constitution needs to be put to a referendum within 30 days. The details of how that will happen remain unclear as such a vote must be observed by members of the judiciary - and many judges have gone on strike to protest Morsi's decree.

A new article has been added to the constitution to allow the upper house of parliament, which is dominated by Islamists, to take over legislative duties until representatives of the lower house are elected - a power previously held by the president.

Beginning of an Islamist state

Many observers have said the draft constitution would establish an Islamic state similar to Saudi Arabia. On top of that, the document calls for a National Security Council, which would cement the independence of the military from civilian oversight.

"This council will discuss everything related to the military and its budget, and will affect the whole of the parliament to supervise the military budget," said Mohamed Zaraa, a project manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights.

Under certain conditions, civilians will also be tried by military tribunals, which are not subject to any judicial standards. But, according to Zaraa, the military insisted on keeping the tribunals active.

"In the original draft it was stated that civilians could not be referred to the military courts," he said. "The military refused to accept this."

The draft constitution also limits freedom of expression, according to Heba Morayef, director of Human Rights Watch Egypt. One article forbids insulting the Prophet Muhammad, while another allows for the possibility of trials of atheists who express their views in public.

Tens of thousands people take part in a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers on November 27, 2012 at Egypt's landmark Tahir Square in Cairo.
Photo: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters remain at Tahrir Square

Chance of violence increases

Anger among non-Islamists is likely to increase. A major demonstration is planned for Friday with liberals and secular party members taking to Tahrir Square, which they have occupied for over a week. Many of the people there were shocked by the announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists also planned to demonstrate their support for Morsi at Tahrir Square on Saturday.

"We occupy this square, why do they want to provoke us," said 25-year-old Mohamed. "If they really demonstrate here on Saturday it could lead to bloodshed."

Though the Muslim Brotherhood has said it will move its planned protests from Tahrir Square to prevent unrest, the organization presented Morsi as a democratic leader in a recent statement.

"The democratically elected president has decided to bring the march to democracy to its conclusion," the statement said, ignoring the recent demonstrations protesting Morsi and the make-up of the constitutional assembly.

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