AN ASSEMBLY charged with writing Egypt’s new constitution began voting on its final draft yesterday, a process president Mohamed Morsi hopes will help to end a crisis which erupted when the Islamist gave himself sweeping new powers.
Morsi’s decree last week halting court challenges to his decisions, which provoked protests and violence across the country, will lapse if Egyptians approve the new constitution.
Speedy completion of the draft would allow a referendum to be held as soon as mid- December, but Morsi’s opponents have attacked the attempt to rush the process through
Morsi said yesterday that the majority supported his decree, but added: “If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop.”
Two people have been killed and hundreds injured in the protests since last Thursday’s decree, which deepened the divide between the newly-empowered Islamists and their opponents.
Setting the stage for more tension, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have called for pro-Morsi rallies tomorrow, but the Brotherhood’s party changed the venue and said they would avoid Tahrir Square, where a sit-in by the president’s opponents entered a seventh day yesterday.
The Brotherhood, which backed Morsi for president in June elections, hopes to end the crisis by replacing the controversial decree with an entirely new constitution.
“May God bless us on this day,” Hossam el-Gheriyani, the speaker of the constituent assembly, told members at the start of the session to vote on each of the 234 articles in the draft, which will go to Morsi for approval and then to a plebiscite.
It is a gamble based on the Islamists’ belief that they can mobilise voters to win the referendum. They have won all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
But critics say the bid to finish the constitution quickly could make matters worse.
The constitution is one of the main reasons the Islamists are at loggerheads with opponents who are boycotting the 100-member constitutional assembly. They say the Islamists have hijacked it to impose their vision of the future.
The assembly’s legitimacy has been called into question by a series of court cases demanding its dissolution. Its standing has also suffered from the withdrawal of members including church representatives of the Christian minority and liberals
The Brotherhood argues that approval of the constitution in a referendum would bury all arguments about both the legality of the assembly and the text it has written in the last six months.
“This is an exit. After the referendum, all previous constitutional decrees, including March 2011’s decree and the current one that created all this political fuss, will fall automatically after 15 days,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said.
Egypt has been without an elected legislature since the Islamist-dominated lower house was dissolved in June. New elections cannot happen until the constitution is passed.
The constitution is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new, democratic Egypt following Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule. Morsi had extended its 12 December deadline by two months, but the assembly speaker said the extra time was not needed.