Published — Friday 30 November 2012
Last update 1 December 2012 3:15 pm
CAIRO: An assembly drafting Egypt's new constitution voted yesterday to keep the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation, unchanged from the previous constitution in force under former President Hosni Mubarak.
The issue was the subject of a long dispute between Salafis and liberals in the assembly which will vote on each of 234 articles in the draft constitution before it is sent to President Muhammad Mursi for approval.
After that, Mursi must put it to a popular referendum.
The Muslim Brotherhood hopes that quick approval of the constitution will help end a crisis ignited by a decree that expanded his powers.
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 Shariah.
The assembly also approved a new article that states that Al-Azhar, a seat of Islamic learning, must be consulted on "matters related to 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 powerful military establishment, although not enough for some critics of the document.
TV footage showed members being asked to sit down in the senate building, where the panel has met for more than over five months, to prepare for the procedure.
The vote comes amid accusations the panel is railroading the charter and as protests mount over Mursi's assumption of sweeping powers, which has plunged the country into its worse crisis since he took office in June.
The head of the panel, Hossam Al-Gheriani, urged the liberal, leftist and Coptic Christian members who walked out to "come back and finish the discussion."
Human rights groups have criticized the move to rush through the constitution. "This is not a healthy moment to be pushing through a constitution because this is an extremely divisive moment," Human Rights Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef said.
"Human rights groups have very serious concerns about some of the rights protections in the latest drafts we've seen," she said.
Mursi and his supporters argue that delaying the constitution, which would be followed by parliamentary elections to replace the house dissolved by a court earlier this year, would delay democratic transition.
The sweeping powers of Mursi will expire once a constitution is ratified in a referendum.
The president insisted in a magazine interview on Wednesday that he will surrender his controversial new powers once a new constitution is in place, hoping to assuage the growing anger two years after a democratic uprising overthrew Mubarak.
"If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop," he told Time magazine. "I hope, when we have a constitution, what I have issued will stop immediately," he added.