Egypt: new charter approved amid violence

Egyptians voter appear to have approved a new constitution, potentially setting the stage for army chief Ge. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to declare his candidacy for president. Authorities put the preliminary results at 90% in favor of the new charter. But the two-day vote was marred by violence. As polls opened, a bomb exploded near a Cairo courthouse, although no casualties were claimed. Over the next tow days, scattered clashes left 10 dead, despite streets flooded with soldiers. The Muslim Brotherhood, now officially banned and declared a terrorist group, called for a boycott of the vote, and is promising a new protest mobilization in the following 10 days, leading up to the third anniversary of the start of the revolution that brought down strongman Hosni Mubarak. Security forces have sealed off Tahrir Square to keep protesters from gathering. (Reuters, Daily News Egypt, Jan. 15; CNN, BBC News, Jan. 14)

The new charter changes some of the reactionary pro-clerical measures in previous constitution, which was approved in December 2012 amid undemocratic power-grabs then-president Mohamed Morsi. But it exchanges them for reactionary pro-military measures.

For instance, the 2012 constitution created a legislative role for al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam's remier theological institution, requiring lawmakers to "consult [it] in matters pertaining to Islamic law." The 2014 constitution removes this provision. The new constitution also removes an article making it a crime to "insult any messengers or prophets."

But while both constitutions require the defense minister to be a military officer, the 2014 constitution mandates that his nomination be approved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. This provision is to expire after two presidential terms, or eight years. The 2012 constitution mandated that "farmers and workers" have at least 50% of the seats in the People's Assembly, the lower house of parliament. The 2014 constitution weakens this provision, granting them only "appropriate representation…in the manner specified by law." It also instates a similarly vague quota for youth, Christians, and disabled persons. (Al Jazeera, Jan. 14)