Egypt House seeks to wrap up constitution

 29 Nov 2012 - 4:52


Riot police stand near one of their vehicles, that was set on fire by protesters, during clashes along a road which leads to the US embassy, near Tahrir Square, in Cairo yesterday. 

CAIRO: The assembly writing Egypt’s constitution said it could wrap up a final draft, a move the Muslim Brotherhood sees as a way out of a crisis over a decree by President Mohammed Mursi that protesters say gives him dictatorial powers.

But as Mursi’s opponents staged a sixth day of protests in Tahrir Square, critics said the Islamist-dominated assembly’s bid to finish the constitution quickly could make matters worse.

Two people have been killed and hundreds injured in countrywide protest set off by Mursi’s decree.

The Brotherhood hopes to end the crisis by replacing Mursi’s controversial decree with an entirely new constitution that would need to be approved in a popular referendum, a Brotherhood official said.

It is a gamble based on the Islamists’ belief that they can mobilise enough voters to win the referendum: they have won all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

But the move seemed likely to deepen divisions that are being exposed in the street.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies called for protests on Saturday in Tahrir Square, setting the stage for more confrontation with their opponents, who staged a mass rally there on Tuesday.

The constitution is one of the main reasons Mursi is at loggerheads with non-Islamist opponents. They are boycotting the 100-member constitutional assembly, saying the Islamists have tried to impose their vision for Egypt’s future.

The assembly’s legal legitimacy has been called into question by a series of court cases demanding its dissolution. Its popular legitimacy has been hit by the withdrawal of members including church representatives and liberals.

“We will start now and finish today, God willing,” Hossam Al Gheriyani, the assembly speaker, said at the start of its latest session in Cairo, saying today would be “a great day”.

“If you are upset by the decree, nothing will stop it except a new constitution issued immediately,” he said. Three other members of the assembly said there were plans to put the document to a vote today.

Just down the road from the meeting convened at the Shura Council, protesters were again clashing with riot police in Tahrir Square. Members of the assembly watched on television as they waited to go into session.

“The constitution is in its last phases and will be put to a referendum soon and God willing it will solve a lot of the problems in the street,” said Talaat Marzouk, an assembly member from the Salafi Nour Party, as he watched the images.

But Wael Ghonim, a prominent activist whose online blogging helped ignite the anti-Mubarak uprising, said a constitution passed in such circumstances would “entrench authoritarianism”. 

The constitution is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new, democratic Egypt following Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule. The assembly has been at work for six months. Mursi had extended its December 12 deadline by two months - extra time that Gheriyani said was not needed. The constitution will determine the powers of the president and parliament and define the roles of the judiciary and a military establishment that had been at the heart of power for decades until Mubarak was toppled. It will also set out the role of Islamic law, or Shariah.Reuters