Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1125, 6 - 12 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

‘An enormous disappointment’

Egypt’s new draft constitution and recent constitutional declaration have led to strong international reactions, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

While Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi called on Saturday for a public referendum to be held on 15 December on the country’s new draft constitution, the constitution itself, supposed to reflect consensus and to be a milestone in the country’s transition towards democracy, has raised great controversy both at home and abroad.
The Obama administration in the US, criticised for not reacting more strongly to the constitutional declaration issued by the president two weeks ago, again refrained from reacting to the swift passage of the draft constitution and the fixing of a date for the referendum.
However, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland lamented the lack of consensus in the process of writing Egypt’s new constitution. US officials said there were internal debates over whether to criticise the draft constitution for limiting freedom of expression and for failing to grant freedom of worship and eroding women’s rights.
The head of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, called on Saturday for a cessation of EU political and economic cooperation with Egypt following Morsi’s move to expand his powers and pass the draft constitution swiftly without significant debate.
“The European Union must make it clear that there can be no political or economic cooperation given the lack of democracy in Egypt,” Schulz told a German newspaper.
“We cannot condone this coup,” he said, describing events that have prompted many in Egypt and abroad to accuse Morsi of betraying the 25 January Revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
“The only thing such a regime understands is economic pressure,” Schulz added in comments made before Morsi named a day for the referendum. The EU issued a similar threat last week in reaction to Morsi’s constitutional declaration.
The international human rights group Amnesty International said the draft constitution fell well short of protecting human rights and in particular ignored the rights of women, restricted freedom of expression in the name of protecting religion, and allowed for the military trial of civilians.
“This document, and the manner in which it has been adopted, will come as an enormous disappointment to many of the Egyptians who took to the streets to oust Hosni Mubarak and demand their rights,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at the organisation.
The draft constitution failed to provide for the supremacy of international law over national law, raising concerns about Egypt’s commitment to human rights treaties to which it is a party, Sahraoui added.
Furthermore, it failed to fully guarantee economic, social and cultural rights, such as protection against forced evictions, and it also tolerated child labour, she said.
The organisation added that the process of drafting the constitution had been flawed from the outset, and it urged president Morsi to put the drafting and referendum process back on the right path, so as to include all sectors of society. This would result in a constitution that enshrined human rights, equality and dignity for all, it said.
Sahraoui noted that Morsi had issued a decree last week to give the constituent assembly tasked with drafting the constitution a further two months to complete its work.
However, last Wednesday, the assembly announced that it would finalise the text in a day. One day later, the draft was put to the vote at a plenary session with no time for real debate or objections from members.
The international human rights group Human Rights Watch said the final draft of the constitution protected some rights but undermined others. The constitution, the organisation stated in a report on its website, provided for basic protections against arbitrary detention and torture and for some economic rights, but failed to end the military trials of civilians or to protect freedom of expression and religion.
It said that the constitution-drafting process had been contentious and that a number of assembly members had resigned in protest over what they said had been the failure of the dominant Islamist factions to compromise on key issues, including the place of religion in the affairs of state.
“The decision of constituent assembly leaders to move a flawed and contradictory draft to a vote is not the right way to guarantee fundamental rights or to promote respect for the rule of law,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Rushing through a draft while serious concerns about key rights protections remain unaddressed will create huge problems down the road that won’t be easy to fix.”
Human Rights Watch had earlier written to the assembly in October outlining its key concerns about various rights provisions based on a review of a 27 September draft of the constitution.
There had been some improvements in the final draft, such as the prohibition against torture and the deletion of other provisions incompatible with human rights law that would have unduly restricted free expression or the practice of religion, it said.
The organisation said it had reviewed chapter II of the final draft, entitled “Rights and Freedoms”, and had followed the televised session in which the assembly had voted on the provisions.
The rights chapter provided for strong protection against arbitrary detention in Article 35 and torture and inhumane treatment in Article 36, and for freedom of movement in Article 42, privacy of communication in Article 38, freedom of assembly in Article 50, and of association in Article 51.
However, the latest draft of the constitution, unlike the earlier version, deferred to objections from Egypt’s military and had removed the clear prohibition of trials of civilians before military courts, Human Rights Watch said.


Abroad, a week earlier

EGYPTIAN expats are set to vote in the constitutional referendum starting on 8 December, Doaa El-Bey reports.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced Monday that Egyptians living abroad will vote on Egypt’s draft constitution from 8 to 11 December, one week ahead of the local polls scheduled for 15 December.
Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdi said the referendum will be held in all of Egypt’s embassies and 11 consulates. He added that instructions were given to embassies and consulates to extend their working hours from 8am to 8pm so as to allow the maximum number of expatriates to have their say in the new constitution.
The rules are the same as for the parliamentary and presidential elections. The elections official website will provide the voters with the election forms starting Saturday 8 December. They can vote either in person or by mail. That explains why Egyptian expats are allowed four days while Egyptians inside Egypt have only one day to participate in the referendum.
However, it is not clear whether voters who did not register to vote in the previous elections will be allowed the chance to register. In the parliamentary and presidential elections, voters pre-registered in the election committee website to be able to take part in the elections.
Out of the eight to 10 million Egyptians living abroad, only 587,000 registered to vote in prior elections. Some 314,000 took part in the presidential election while a little more than 287,000 participated in the parliamentary elections.
The right of Egyptian expats to vote was confirmed in April last year when the government announced that expats will be allowed to vote in presidential elections and public referendums at embassies and consulates. Under former president Hosni Mubarak, expats could not vote.
In October, an administrative court ruled that Egyptians living abroad had the right to cast ballots in the parliamentary polls. A month later the then ruling military council passed a law regulating expat voting in parliamentary and presidential elections and in national referendums.

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