Egypt to vote on draft constitution

Fecha de publicación: 
28 Nov 2012

A divisive panel boycotted by liberals and Christians was set to rush out a draft new Egyptian constitution as protests mounted over the political future nearly two years after Hosni Mubarak's overthrow.

President Mohamed Morsi had just last week given the constituent assembly an additional two months until February to complete its work.

But as protests mounted over his decision to grant himself sweeping powers until the text is ratified in a referendum, the panel wrapped up its deliberations on Wednesday and readied for a vote on Thursday.

"The discussions over the draft of the constitution will be finished today, to be followed by voting," Ahmed Darrag, the panel chief, said in remarks carried by the official MENA news agency.

Tear gas

Egyptian police fired tear gas into Cairo's Tahrir Square on Wednesday morning, where several hundred protesters spent the night after a mass rally to denounce Morsi's assumption of expanded powers.

Clashes erupting on streets near Tahrir Square spilled into the square, with canisters falling into the crowd forcing protesters to run and sending clouds of tear gas over the tents housing the demonstrators. 

Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Cairo, said there was a huge difference between Wednesday and Tuesday's turnout, which she said was a huge success for the opposition in terms of the amount of people they were able to rally.

"Today, you have those die-hards who say that they will stay in the square until the president retracts his constitutional declaration."

Abdel-Hamid said supporters of the former regime joined the protests and are now considered as part of the opposition.

She said the slogans of demands have changed over the past few days, from the fall of the regime, to anti-Muslim Brotherhood, to calling for the "constitutional declaration" to be abolished. 

However, our correspondent said that while Morsi had been holding consultations with people in his constituency on Wednesday, there was no sign that he was considering the option of retracting his decree.

The Muslim Brotherhood and allied groups plan to hold nationwide protests in support of Morsi on Saturday. Mahmud Ghozlan, a senior Brotherhood member and spokesperson, said the rally would be held in Cairo. This comes after the movement cancelled a rival rally meant to be held in Cairo on Tuesday to "avoid potential unrest".

"That it can mobilise large numbers of people too, not only in Cairo but around the country," Abdel-Hamid reported. "What you have here is a race between the two camps to try to gather more people."

Violent protests

The outskirts of the square have seen sporadic clashes now entering their ninth day, in what started as an anniversary protest to mark one year since deadly confrontations with police in the same area.

Masked protesters grabbing tear gas canisters and throwing them back at police in a street close to the US embassy, near Tahrir Square.

On Tuesday, one person was killed and about a hundred people injured when an estimated 200,000 protesters packed the square, protesting against a decree issued by the new president granting himself sweeping powers.

At least 100 people were injured in Tuesday's nationwide demonstrations, including 21 in Cairo, the health ministry said.

Rallies were staged in most of Egypt's 27 provinces. In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria protesters attacked the local office of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement, while in Mahalla, north of Cairo, anti-Morsi protesters held a large rally.

At least three people have died in one week of protests and clashes against Morsi's decree.

Judges critical

The Egyptian protesters are angry at the decree that Morsi announced last Thursday allowing him to "issue any decision or law that is final and not subject to appeal", which effectively placed him beyond judicial scrutiny.

The decree put him on a collision course with the judiciary and consolidated the long-divided opposition which accuses him of taking on dictatorial powers.

Our correspondent Abdel-Hamid said that the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters say that they had no choice and were forced to make this "constitutional declaration" to prevent the opposition from dissolving the constituent assembly, which it has tried to do for the second time in six months.

She said that the opposition does not agree with this saying that this "constitutional declaration" will only give the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious parties the opportunity to put forward their agendas.

The demonstrations come a day after Morsi stuck by his decree after a meeting with the country's top judges aimed at defusing the crisis.

The head of the assembly drafting Egypt's new constitution said the final draft would be finished on Wednesday, and three other members of the assembly told Reuters the document would be put to a vote on Thursday.

"We will start now and finish today, God willing," Hossam el-Gheriyani, the assembly speaker, said at the start of a
meeting of the constitutional assembly in Cairo. He said Thursday would be a "great day", without elaborating, and
called on the members who had withdrawn from the body to return.

There has been "no change to the constitutional declaration", presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters at the end of the meeting.

But he added Morsi sought to clarify that any irrevocable decisions apply only to issues related "to his sovereign powers" and stressed the temporary nature of the decree.

The head of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) - the Brotherhood's political arm - said the meeting between Morsi and the judges had been "fruitful".

But judges said the crisis was not over.

"The meeting failed," Judge Abdel Rahman Bahlul, who attended the talks, told the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

"We cannot say this is the end of the crisis between the judiciary and the presidency," another judge who attended the talks, Judge Ahmed Abdel Rahman, told the paper.