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October 11, 2012

New Egyptian Constitution Could Limit President's Powers

by VOA News

An Egyptian panel writing a national constitution has released a partial draft that includes new limits on the authority of the head of state but leaves out key sections that are the source of ongoing disputes among panel members.

The partial draft published Wednesday by Egypt's 100-member Constituent Assembly calls for a division of powers between the Egyptian president, prime minister and parliament. The provision would change the previous system under which former President Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt for three-decades unchallenged until his ouster in a popular revolution last year.

The document said the Egyptian parliament should remain a two-chamber assembly that has the new authority to withdraw confidence from the prime minister, meaning the prime minister would need the support of a parliamentary majority. But, there was no mention of the degree to which Egypt's civilian government institutions would have oversight of the military.

A military council ruled Egypt for a year and a half following Mubarak's ouster and made attempts to put its authorities beyond civilian oversight. But, it handed power in June to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi after the Islamist politician won a free election earlier in the year.

Constituent assembly member Mohammed Beltagi of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement said the partial draft of the constitution was released to encourage the public to suggest amendments while the panel tries to resolve disagreements about other provisions.

The assembly is dominated by Islamists and has drawn strong criticism from liberal and secular Egyptians who fear it will threaten their freedoms.

The incomplete draft maintains the previous constitution's commitment to Islam as the source of Egyptian legislation, but it contains a new article stating that equality between men and women should be limited in accordance with Islamic law, or sharia.

U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch has urged the constituent assembly to draft an Egyptian constitution that protects the rights of women, children and religious minorities and explicitly bans torture.

The assembly is trying to finalize a draft constitution by the end of the year and put it to a referendum. But, critics of the panel are pursuing a court challenge claiming that it has no legal mandate. An Egyptian court is expected to rule on the assembly's fate next Tuesday.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.