CAIRO, Dec 15, 2012 (AFP)
CAIRO, Dec 15, 2012 (AFP)
Voting began in Egypt on Saturday in a staggered referendum on a new constitution largely drafted by Islamists allied to President Mohamed Morsi.
Half of the country’s 51 million voters are being called to decide the draft charter, with the other half to vote next Saturday.
Egypt’s secular-leaning opposition has strongly protested against the proposed constitution, which it sees as a possible wedge to introduce sharia-style law.
Weeks of protests preceded the referendum. Clashes last week in Cairo left eight people dead and more than 600 injured.
Polls on Saturday are scheduled to close at 7:00pm (1700 GMT) in Cairo, Alexandria and the eight other governorates voting.
Egypt’s army has temporarily been given police powers to help ensure security until the final results of the referendum are known. A total 120,000 soldiers will support the 130,000 police deployed.
Morsi’s camp argues that the draft constitution, drawn up by an Islamist-dominated panel, is needed to complete the transition from the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak, the leader toppled in the revolution early last year.
The opposition has denounced the way the referendum has been rammed through with no consensus on the constitution.
Many of Egypt’s judges have said they will not oversee the vote, forcing split voting.
Here are key points of the controversial draft constitution:
– Islam remains the official religion of the country. The previous formulation saying the “principles of sharia” are the main source of legislation is maintained. However, these principles are broadened to include Sunni Muslim doctrinal interpretations.
– “Freedom of faith is guaranteed” — but only for followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, not for other religions.
– The president is limited to ruling for two consecutive four-year terms, instead of indefinitely as under Mubarak.
– The defence minister is chosen from within the military. Also, the military’s budget will be decided by a committee dominated by military officers, effectively making it independent of civilian oversight.
– Civilians will not be tried in military courts except in cases where the “crimes are susceptible to harm the armed forces.” The opposition and human rights groups demand that this vaguely defined exception be removed.
– The charter upholds “the equality of citizens under the law without discrimination,” but omits an explicit mention of equality of the sexes.
– Freedom of expression is protected — except when it comes to “insults against physical persons” or “insults towards the prophets.” Some fear those exceptions open the door to censorship.
– The state is the designated protector of “public morals and order.”
– It is forbidden for Egypt to sign international treaties and conventions that go against the constitution. Rights groups criticise the absence of an explicit reference to respect for international human rights conventions.