President Mansour expected to promptly approve Egypt draft constitution

Dina Ezzat, Tuesday 3 Dec 2013

As Egypt's interim president receives the final draft of the country's new charter, a high-ranking official expects the constitution to pass in January with over 70 percent of the vote

This image released by the Egyptian Presidency shows Interim President Adly Mansour, right, with head of the 50-member constituent panel Amr Moussa in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Chairman of the constitution drafting committee Amr Moussa presented on Tuesday the final draft of the charter – finalised Sunday evening – to interim President Adly Mansour.

According to government sources, Mansour is expected to promptly approve the text and call for a referendum on the constitution. "The government needs a few weeks to prepare for the referendum, so we are talking about the first or second week of January, but not much earlier," said a government source.

A source at the Ministry of Information said the next few weeks would be "well utilised" by the state-run media to "encourage people to vote in favour of the new constitution."

"We are planning to host several members of the drafting committee and several activists during many programmes on all the channels of Egyptian TV to explain why this constitution could help achieve progress for all Egyptians," she said.

A similar account was offered by two sources in two key privately owned Egyptian channels – with one actually talking about "an intensive campaign to lobby for a yes vote."

Reservations over certain articles in the constitution have prompted considerable criticism of the draft from rights groups and revolutionary quarters. A particular subject for disapproval was the article allowing the trial of civilians before military courts in cases of direct assault on military installations – a text that is openly interpreted by leading military figures to render the military untouchable by banning attacks on all military figures "including workers at petrol stations owned by the army."

Another subject of the same quarters' censure is the article which allows the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to have the final say on the appointment of the defence minister.

The media scheme is designed to allow for guests and commentators "to explain the temporary nature of these provisions, to put things into context and to explain that these articles are designed to protect the army from the aggressive attacks of the Islamists," said the source at the Ministry of Information.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking official told Ahram Online that he expects the constitution to pass in January with over 70 percent of the vote – a slightly higher approval rate than the 2012 constitution, drafted by a predominantly Islamist committee under the rule of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The president is now to consult with the "rest of the state leadership – yes, including the army" to determine the following step of the transition phase.

The final draft of the constitution grants the head of the executive the prerogative to adhere – or not – to the original transitional roadmap announced upon Morsi's 3 July ouster by army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi amid mass protest against the Islamist president's rule, which stipulated that parliamentary elections be held prior to presidential elections.

"This could be reconsidered, but we are not sure yet; we need to think it through," said the same high-ranking official, adding that whether El-Sisi will choose to run at the presidential elections or not is a factor affecting the decision. 

He explained that, "in view of the concern over renewed accusations that Morsi was removed in a military coup, rather than [in] a revolution," parliament may be elected first should the army chief choose to run for president, to avoid his taking over legislative responsibilities pending the subsequent election of a parliament. 

Mansour is also to call for a 'dialogue among concerned political forces' to determine the nature of the parliamentary electoral system – another responsibility deferred by the constitution drafting committee following a lengthy yet inconclusive debate.

The president is expected to support a mixed system allowing candidates to run independently in two-thirds of the seats of the new parliament or along with other candidates in an open slate system in one-third of the seats, according to an informed source.

Mansour’s other task, sources added, is to consult with El-Sisi on whether or not to call for a cabinet reshuffle once the constitution is adopted by late January.

"There has been considerable criticism against the government, but it is not President Mansour's preference to have a new government before the end of the transition period; the matter will be settled in line with the decision on whether to start with presidential elections or with parliamentary elections," said the high-ranking source.

The text of the draft constitution requires the president to call for either parliamentary or early presidential elections in 30 to 90 days after the adoption of the charter, and for the two elections to be held with no more than a six-month interval.

Member of the constitution drafting committee Diaa Rashwan denied that the committee had passed the state of uncertainty over the remainder of the transition period to the interim president. "This is not the case; the committee is aware that political developments might require that legislative elections take place before presidential elections and we accommodated this – without going as far as taking a decision without access to all the determining factors."

Rashwan added that "at the end of the day, the draft constitution clearly specifies some dates, as it stipulates that the process of electing a parliament and president should start within no more than three months and should end in no more than nine months from the day the constitution is adopted."

Meanwhile, Amr Elshobaky, another member of the drafting committee, said "it is only realistic to acknowledge the debate over the matter – with some people, with whom I agree, preferring to start with parliamentary elections, to have a body in charge of legislation, and others arguing that the current fluid political atmosphere requires that prominence be given to the election of a president. It will not be long before a decision is made on the matter anyway, and this decision does not strictly have to emerge from within the committee," he added.

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