CAIRO— Egypt's interim President Adly Mansour announced a referendum will be held next month to ratify the country's new constitution.
The scheduled January 14-15 vote is the first step on a roadmap back to democracy announced by the Egyptian military last July, following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
An audience of top Egyptian religious, political and military leaders applauded the work of the country's constitutional committee, giving a hearty ovation Saturday to veteran statesman and diplomat Amr Moussa, who presided over its sessions.
Moussa, the former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister, said he believes his committee put together the best possible constitution for the country - one that grants all Egyptians equal rights.
"The committee has presented a constitutional text that makes for a prosperous and united society opening the horizon toward a better future for Egypt and its people," Moussa said in Arabic. "The constitution makes Islam the religion of the state, Arabic its official language and Islamic law the basis of justice."
Moussa said it treats the laws of other religions with respect, gives equal rights to all Egyptians and makes discrimination a criminal offense. He added that the new document grants equal rights to men and women, protects the rights of children, and offers social justice to all.
The proposed charter keeps Egypt a secular state, and Moussa said it preserves the spirit of what he called the country's "January 25 and June 30 revolutions.” The dates refer to the popular uprising beginning in January 2011 that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, and the military action on June 30 this year that deposed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who was elected president in 2012.
Mansour, who also heads Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, announced the draft charter will be the subject of a popular referendum in a nationally televised address Saturday, and he called for its approval by a wide margin.
The new constitution - Egypt's third since Mubarak was in power - would replace another charter that was approved, ratified and affirmed as Egypt's fundamental law less than 12 months ago by then-President Morsi. Controversy swirled about the 2012 constitution even before it was completed, due to what critics said was its unfair and unequal treatment of all citizens.
However, with strong backing from the Muslim Brotherhood, that earlier constitution was approved in a referendum last December with a "yes" vote of 64 percent.
The Muslim Brotherhood did not react immediately to announcement of the referendum, but prominent members of the group have called for a boycott.
Mansour, who was installed as president with strong military support, says the new constitution defends the noble principles of freedom and democracy and lays a solid foundation for the future of the country:
He thanked members of the constitutional committee for doing their duty in fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the Egyptian people, and said they did the job with honor, diligence and impartiality, under difficult circumstances.
Morsi, who was arrested in June, is in custody awaiting a trial currently scheduled to begin January 8.