US withholds judgment on Egypt draft constitution

AFP, Wednesday 4 Dec 2013

The United States says it's up to Egyptians to approve the newly-drafted constitution as Egypt prepares for a referendum on the national charter

Members of the assembly writing Egypt's new constitution pose for a group photo after finishing their vote at the Shura Council in Cairo December 1, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A top US official Tuesday refused to be drawn on whether a new Egyptian constitution would pave the way for democratic reforms, saying it was up to Egyptians to approve the draft charter.

The document was handed over to the country's interim president Adly Mansour after a 50-member committee finished drawing it up on Saturday.

Egypt's interim authorities now have 30 days to hold a referendum and put it to a national vote.

"As we've said all along, we look to this constitution to protect the fundamental freedoms and rights of all Egyptians," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

But she refused to pass judgment on the draft, saying: "We don't want to prejudge the outcome of a referendum."

"This is up to the Egyptian people to decide whether or not they approve of this draft constitution," she added.

In October, Washington suspended a large part of its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt, insisting that the interim government must make progress towards restoring democracy in the Arab nation.

The vote on the draft charter has been billed as the first stage in the "democratic transition" promised by the new authorities since Morsi's ouster.

Harf stressed that Washington had made its concerns known during the drafting process over such issues as "the fact that we think civilians should be tried in civilian courts, for example."

"We've said when we have specific issues, but we're not going to go through in advance of a popular referendum and do a line-by-line analysis. That's not really our place to do here," she added.

According to observers, the most controversial article states that "no civilian can be tried by military judges, except for crimes of direct attacks on armed forces, military installations and military personnel."

Secular activists and rights groups have severely criticized that provision, fearing it could be applied to protesters, journalists and dissidents.

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online

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