Islamist-led assembly votes on Egyptian constitution

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Praising the draft, panel president Hossam al-Ghiryani, told members: “We will teach this constitution to our sons.”

“The Egyptian people are with us, listening to us,” al-Ghiryani, an Islamist, said. “They must understand their constitution which they will vote on shortly and with which life will stabilize in Egypt, God willing.”

Morsi is expected to call for a referendum on the draft as early as mid-December.

The committee has been plagued by controversy from the start. It was created by the first parliament elected after the fall last year of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. But a first permutation of the assembly, also Islamist-dominated, was disbanded by the courts. A new one was created just before the lower house of parliament, also Brotherhood-led, was dissolved by the judiciary earlier this year.

Morsi and his supporters say his decrees were necessary to “protect the revolution” and prevent the judiciary from holding up what they say is a transition to democracy. Morsi also decreed that courts cannot dissolve the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council — though the Constitution Court is to rule on whether to do so as well on Sunday.

If the constitution passes, Morsi will hand over legislative powers to the Shura Council until elections for a new lower house are held, according to Prime Minister Hesham Kandil. The Shura Council is normally a toothless body and very few Egyptians voted in elections for it last winter — turnout was less than 10 percent — which led to the Brotherhood and other Islamists taking the vast majority of its seats.

Dissolving the constitutional panel and replacing it with a more inclusive body is a key demand by the liberal-led opposition. It also calls for rescinding the president’s decrees.

Critics accuse the Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, of using their election victories to monopolize the state, squeezing out other factions, and pushing through an Islamist vision.

It is not clear what would happen to the approved draft if the Constitutional Court dissolves the assembly on Sunday. But the escalation could move the dispute more out of the realm of legal questions and into the more volatile street to be decided by which side can bring the most support.

Bassam al-Zarqa, a senior aide to Morsi and a member of the ultraconservative Salafi movement, said the rally called by Islamists for Saturday was “a necessity because it will give the message to the opposition that if you can bring one person (into the street) we can bring 10. So it’s better to return to the ballot boxes and not street pressure.”

Morsi became the country’s first ever freely elected president when he narrowly won a June vote against Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

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AP reporters Hamza Hendawi and Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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