Islamist stamp on draft charter Protests after constitution rush

CAIRO, Nov 30, (RTRS): Egypt’s hastily-adopted draft constitution has widened splits between Islamists and opponents alarmed by the contents of a document meant to enshrine a transition from autocracy in the most populous Arab nation.
The constitution, which will go to a referendum after President Mohamed Morsi approves it, defines the president’s powers and limits him to two terms, while adding flavours to the taste of the Islamists who dominated the drafting process.
Liberals, Christians and others who had already quit the drafting assembly said the document pushed through on Friday would further polarise a nation in turmoil since an uprising ended President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule 21 months ago.
Morsi wants swift action on the constitution to try to defuse opposition to a decree he issued last week temporarily giving himself powers that exceed those enjoyed by Mubarak.
Despite fiery street protests, opponents may be unable to derail the blueprint’s passage, given the proven ability of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and hardline Salafi Islamists to mobilise voters among Egypt’s deeply religious population.
“The people will agree because they (the Islamists) will use religion, they trade on religion,” said Mina Tarek, 25, among thousands who joined anti-Morsi protests across Egypt on Friday. “They will tell them to say ‘yes’ in order to go to heaven.”
The Brotherhood, which propelled Morsi to a narrow election victory against a former Mubarak ally in June, was the main voice in a drafting assembly that debated presidential powers, the status of Islam, the military’s role and human rights.
Apart from presidential term limits, the constitution introduces a degree of oversight over Egypt’s powerful military establishment — though not enough for critics who also flayed vague wording that could be used to erode human rights.

The draft forbids blasphemy and “insults to any person”, does not explicitly uphold women’s rights and demands respect for “religion, traditions and family values”.
Such loose language dismays Edward Ghaleb, a Christian who sat in the drafting body until the Coptic church withdrew its delegates in protest at Islamist influence over the document.
“We wanted Egyptians to get more freedoms and fewer presidential powers,” he said. “Islamists’ dominance ... led them to write it alone in a way that suited their interests.”
About 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million people are Orthodox Copts. Socialists and liberals also quit the assembly. Even clerics from the authoritative Sunni Muslim al-Azhar religious school threatened to pull out, advocating a more moderate text.
The Islamists say they made concessions to their critics. “We changed many articles to please the liberals, so we don’t understand why they are staying away from the voting,” said Brotherhood leader and assembly member Mohamed al-Beltagy.
The draft upholds “the principles of Islamic law” as the main source of legislation, language unchanged from the constitution that underpinned Mubarak’s rule.
But it adds an article stating that Al-Azhar must be consulted on “matters related” to sharia, and another that attempts to explain what the principles of sharia are.
Gamal Eid, a human rights activist, praised some articles defending freedoms, but said others were deeply worrisome.
“The document is full of rubbery expressions like ‘national morals’,” he said. “It’s not clear, but of course it could and would be used to crack down on activists and opposition.”
While language linking women’s rights to sharia was removed from the final draft, it still failed to mention women or other sections of society in an article forbidding discrimination.
Thousands of Egyptians protested against Morsi on Friday after an Islamist-led assembly raced through approval of the new constitution.
“The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted in Tahrir Square, echoing the chants that rang out in the same place less than two years ago and brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi said the decree halting court challenges to his decisions, which sparked eight days of protests and violence by Egyptians calling him a new dictator, was “for an exceptional stage” and aimed to speed up the democratic transition.
“It will end as soon as the people vote on a constitution,” he told state television while the constituent assembly was still voting on the draft, which the Islamists say reflects Egypt’s new freedoms. “There is no place for dictatorship.”
The opposition cried foul. Liberals, leftists, Christians, more moderate Muslims and others had withdrawn from the assembly, saying their voices were not being heard.
Thousands packed Tahrir and hit the streets in Alexandria and cities on the Suez Canal, in the Nile Delta and south of Cairo, responding to opposition calls for a big turnout.
The disparate opposition which has struggled to compete with well-organised Islamists has been drawn together and reinvigorated by the crisis. Tens of thousands had also protested on Tuesday, showing the breadth of public anger.
But Islamists have a potent political machine and the United States has looked on warily at the rising power of a group they once kept at arms length now ruling a nation that has a peace treaty with Israel and is at the heart of the Arab Spring.
Protesters said they would push for a ‘no’ vote in a referendum, which could happen as early as mid-December. If approved, it would immediately cancel the president’s decree.
“We fundamentally reject the referendum and constituent assembly because the assembly does not represent all sections of society,” said Sayed el-Erian, 43, a protester in Tahrir and member of a party set up by opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei.
“Leave, leave,” some chanted, another anti-Mubarak slogan.
In the Cairo mosque where Morsi said Friday prayers, some opponents chanted against him but backers quickly surrounded him shouting in support, journalists and a security source said.
Thousands of Morsi supporters also turned out in Alexandria.
The UN human rights chief has warned Morsi that his decree expanding his powers would put him beyond the law and open the door to human rights violations, her spokesman said on Friday.
Navi Pillay sent a letter to Morsi on Tuesday, urging him to reconsider last week’s decree and warning that “approving a constitution in these circumstances could be deeply divisive,” spokesman Rupert Colville told a UN briefing.
Pillay, in her letter, said Egypt needed stronger guarantees to prevent it reneging on the binding principles of the main human rights treaty guaranteeing civil and political rights that Cairo ratified 30 years ago.
She called on Morsi to launch impartial investigations and “truth-seeking processes” and make sure the law worked without allowing a return of the human rights abuses seen under Morsi’s autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

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