Egyptians to vote on constitution next month in step ‘towards democracy’

The constitutional referendum is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in the middle of next year.

Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, on Saturday announces January 14-15 as the dates citizens will vote on new constitution. Egyptian TV / AFP
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CAIRO // Egyptians will vote to ratify a draft constitution on January 14-15 as part of a plan by the interim government to restore democracy to the country.

The interim president, Adly Mansour, called on Egyptians to vote “yes” for the charter he described as setting the path towards a modern democratic state.

“After we wasted a long time, that passed slowly, heavily and harshly on many of Egypt’s poor, it is time we complete our revolution and rebuild this nation to realise the popular aspirations and ambitions,” Mr Mansour said as he announced the dates on Saturday.

The constitutional referendum is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in the middle of next year.

The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member panel after the interim authorities suspended the previous version of the charter written under the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.

Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was removed by the army on July 3 after millions protested against his turbulent year-long rule.

Mr Mansour praised the revised draft for its provisions on the “securing of human rights, freedoms and the balancing of powers”.

“The document in our hands today is a text that should make every Egyptian proud, and (it is) the correct starting point for building the institutions of the modern democratic state that we all aspire to,” he said.

Amr Shobaki, a member of the panel that wrote the draft, said Egypt was at a “turning point and its success would mean an end to a transitional phase as right now there are no elected institutions”.

The revised charter has come under criticism from secular movements and civil-rights groups for retaining the powers and privileges of the military.

It allows the military to prosecute civilians in some cases, appoint the defence minister and keep its budget beyond civilian scrutiny – powers held by the legislature, executive and judiciary of most democracies.

However, several political groups have already started low-level campaigning in favour of the new basic law.

The Tamarod (rebellion) movement that led the campaign against Mr Morsi’s rule has backed the charter.

“Its an important leap towards democracy and realises the aims of the January 2011 revolution and the June 30 revolution” against Mr Morsi, said Mohammed Abdel Aziz, a leader of Tamarod.

But Islamists are divided, with the Salafist Al Nour party saying it will campaign in favour of it and pro-Morsi groups against it.

The Anti-Coup Alliance led by the Muslim Brotherhood movement to which Morsi belongs said in a statement earlier in December that it “rejects as a total waste of billions of Egyptian pounds a potentially rigged and certainly unconstitutional referendum to rubber stamp the country’s most important document”.

Egypt’s Islamists were also divided over Mr Morsi’s removal from power, with Al Nour backing the military in deposing him along with Christian and Muslim religious institutions.

The Anti-Coup Alliance has staged near daily pro-Morsi protests since his removal.

The now discarded 2012 constitution written under Mr Morsi was drafted by a 100-member panel dominated by his Islamist allies.

* Reporting by Associated Press and Agence France-Presse