Egypt draft constitution seen ready in November

CAIRO (AP) — A 50-member panel tasked with amending Egypt’s Islamist-tilted constitution will complete its work by early November, wrapping up the first phase of a road map announced by the country’s military chief when he ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, a spokesman for the body said Sunday.

Mohammed Salmawy said the panel already has approved about a third of the charter, mostly non-controversial clauses on basic freedoms. He said members were leaning in favor of permanently removing the upper chamber of parliament known as the Shura Council.

The panel has yet to decide on proposals that the charter should be adopted by a minimum of 75 percent of the vote when it is put to a nationwide referendum, rather than a simple majority as has been the custom in past referendums, he added. It was also leaning toward supporting the cancellation of all military trials for civilians.

The Shura Council has long been chided as a toothless talking shop, but Morsi elevated it to a legislative body when the nation’s highest court dissolved the lower and more important chamber shortly before he took office on June 30 last year. The last Shura Council was dominated by Islamists and elected by less than 10 percent of registered voters. It was dissolved shortly after Morsi’s ouster.

The constitutional panel was appointed by interim President Adly Mansour, who succeeded Morsi after the latter’s ouster in a popularly backed military coup in July. Morsi was Egypt’s first freely elected president but his removal came after days of street protests by millions demanding he resign.

The new charter will replace one adopted in a referendum in December after an Islamist-dominated panel approved it in an all-night session. That constitution is widely seen to place restrictions on freedoms of expression and to give clerics a say over legislation. The document was approved by about 64 percent of the vote, but turnout was only some 30 percent.

The adoption of a new constitution or amendments to the charter adopted last year will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections, the last two phases of the road map announced on July 3 by military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, also the defense minister.

Compliance with the road map is expected to be around February next year or a short time later.

Islamists are represented in the panel by a member of the ultraconservative al-Nour party and an independent Islamic thinker who broke away years ago from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group of which Morsi was a longtime leader.

Morsi’s supporters are planning to campaign against the amended constitution as part of their efforts to undermine the military-backed government, but Amr Moussa, the chairman of the 50-member panel, told reporters that backers of the new constitution intended to do some lobbying of their own.

“They can lobby and we can lobby too provided that everyone uses peaceful means,” said Moussa, a former foreign minister and chief of the Cairo-based Arab League.

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