Why is Egypt's draft constitution so controversial? (+video)
Protesters took to the streets in Cairo and other Egyptian cities today over a draft constitution written by Islamists. Here are the points many in Egypt are talking about.
Egypt's constituent assembly worked through the night to finish voting on Egypt's new constitution, finalizing its work early this morning and sent the contentious document to the president, who will call a national referendum on the constitution within two weeks.Skip to next paragraph
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President Mohamed Morsi's allies made the surprise move to finish the document this week after he issued a decree sidelining the judiciary and removing nearly all checks on his power.
Though the constitution's content had been the subject of debate for months, the process of drafting it was more controversial than the text itself. The first body elected to write it was dissolved by a court after secularist members complained it was dominated by Islamists. The second body, elected by a now-dissolved Parliament, was likewise packed with Islamists and negotiations over revising its makeup broke down months ago, with some secular parties announcing they would boycott the assembly.
Most of the remaining non-Islamist members, including all Christian members, left the committee over recent weeks, complaining their suggestions were ignored.
The rush to complete the document this week – the president's decree had extended the deadline for its completion by two months – infuriated the opposition, who say a flawed, unrepresentative document is the result. Thousands of people protested the new draft constitution in Tahrir square today.
Zaid Al Ali, a Cairo-based adviser on constitution building for the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, says: "A major opportunity was missed to really study what went wrong under the previous system" and try to address those problems. While focusing on disagreements between Islamists and secularists, the drafters missed an opportunity to address issues like decentralization of power, effectiveness of governance, and corruption.
Others had hoped the constitution would do more to achieve social justice and alter what they say is a state structure that contributes to the growing gap between rich and poor.
But many expect the constitution will pass a national referendum, because of the Muslim Brotherhood's ability to mobilize its grassroots and because many Egyptians are eager to see the instability of the past 22 months come to an end, and believe a permanent constitution will help achieve that.
While the process was contentious, here is a look at the actual content of the new constitution on key issues:
Islam and the state
Islamists and non-Islamists engaged in extensive wrangling during recent months over the role of Islam in the state, and the specific wording that would be used in the constitution to define how sharia, or Islamic law, relates to legislation. In the end, the drafters preserved the wording of the previous constitution: The principles of sharia are the main source of legislation. However, they also added another clause specifying what is meant by the principles of sharia.