Cairo panel voting on constitution

AP and Reuters, CAIRO

Fri, Nov 30, 2012 - Page 7

An Islamist-dominated panel tasked to write a new constitution for Egypt began voting yesterday on the document’s final draft, a move likely to stoke a widening political crisis over decrees giving the nation’s Islamist president near absolute powers.

Fast tracking the process is aimed at pre-empting a possible ruling on Sunday by the Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the constitutional assembly. The court will also rule on the legitimacy of parliament’s upper chamber, also dominated by Islamists. The lower chamber, the lawmaking People’s Assembly, was dissolved by the court in June.

Liberal members of the panel have withdrawn to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Islamists loyal to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

The panel’s president, Hossam al-Ghiryani, began yesterday’s session by ordering a vote by a show of hands to dismiss 11 members he said exceeded the number of sessions they are allowed to miss without risking dismissal. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of their dismissal and substitute members stepped in to fill their place.

The 11, who included former foreign minister and presidential candidate Amr Moussa, liberal politician Waheed Abdel-Maguid and two Christians, are among as many as 30 members who have pulled out in protest over recent weeks.

The assembly then began voting on each of the 234 articles in the draft document.

It voted to keep the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation, unchanged from the previous constitution in force under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The issue was the subject of a long dispute between hardline Salafi Islamists and liberals in the assembly.

While Article Two of the constitution — describing the source of legislation — stays the same, the constitution includes new provisions explaining what is meant by “the principles” of Islamic law, known as Shariah.

The assembly also approved a new article that states that Al-Azhar, a seat of Sunni Muslim learning, must be consulted on “matters related to the Islamic Shariah.”

The final draft makes historic changes to Egypt’s system of government. For example, it sets a limit on the number of terms a president may serve to two. Mubarak stayed in power for three decades.

It also introduces a degree of civilian oversight over the military, although not enough for some critics of the document.