News / Africa

Egypt’s New Constitution: How it Differs from Old Version

An official counts ballots after polls closed during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22, 2012.
An official counts ballots after polls closed during the final stage of a referendum on Egypt's new constitution in Bani Sweif, about 115 km (71 miles) south of Cairo December 22, 2012.
Egypt's new constitution, approved by voters in a two-stage referendum this month, replaces a 1971 charter that was suspended last year after a popular uprising deposed longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

Here is a look at the similarities and differences between the two documents in several key areas:

Role of Islam

Both constitutions designate Islam as Egypt's official religion and Islamic law, or Sharia, as the main source of legislation. They also obligate the state to "preserve" traditional family values based on Islam.

But in a key difference, the 2012 charter defines the principles of Sharia for the first time. It says those principles include "evidence, rules, jurisprudence and sources" accepted by Sunni Islam, Egypt's majority religious sect.

The new document also gives unprecedented powers to Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most respected religious school, by saying its scholars must be consulted on all matters relating to Sharia. The 1971 charter did not mention Al-Azhar.

Human rights

Both documents say detainees must not be subjected to any "physical or moral harm," and must have their dignity preserved by the state.
In a new protection of rights, the 2012 charter bans all forms of human exploitation and the sex trade.

Women's rights

Both documents commit the state to helping women with the financial costs of motherhood and the balancing of family and work responsibilities. But they differ on the issue of equality between men and women.

The preamble of the 2012 constitution says Egypt adheres to the principle of equality "for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment, in both rights and duties."

The new document's main section also contains two articles barring the state from denying equal rights and opportunities to citizens. But those provisions do not explicitly bar discrimination against women.

The 1971 constitution included one article that required the state to treat women and men equally in the "political, social, cultural and economic spheres," provided that such treatment did not violate Sharia.

Another article explicitly prohibited gender discrimination.

Freedom of expression

Both charters guarantee the freedom to express opinions orally, in writing or through images, and the freedom of the press to own news organizations and publish material independently.

In a major change, the 2012 document guarantees the freedom of belief for the "divine/monotheist religions" - a reference to Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

It says followers of those faiths have the right to perform religious rituals and establish places of worship "as regulated by law." The previous constitution made no mention of the rights of any religions other than Islam.

In another difference, the new document contains an unprecedented ban on "insults" toward the prophets of Islam.

Presidential powers

Both constitutions designate the president as the supreme commander of the military and the head of the National Defense Council, a body comprising six civilian Cabinet ministers and six top military officers.

The documents also say the president only can declare war with parliament’s approval.
Several constraints to the president’s authority were added to the 2012 charter.

It reduces the length of a presidential term to four years from six, and it says a president can only be re-elected once, not indefinitely as in the Mubarak era.

The president’s nominee for prime minister also must win a parliamentary confidence vote before taking office. Previously, the president had the right to appoint and fire the prime minister without a parliamentary veto.

In another new constraint, the 2012 charter obligates the president to consult the National Defense Council before declaring war.

It also makes no reference to a vice president. Former president Mubarak had the right to fill the post under the 1971 document, but he did so only in the final days of his rule.

Military powers

The new constitution significantly enhances the authority of the Egyptian armed forces. It says the president must choose a defense minister from among the military’s top officers. That choice had not been restricted before.

Under the new charter, the power to set the armed forces’ budget is granted to the National Defense Council, half of whose members are military officers.

Senior officers also gain the authority to put civilians on trial in military courts, but only in cases where the alleged crimes “damage the armed forces.”

In another boost to the military, the 2012 document creates a National Security Council with a balance of senior officers and civilian Cabinet ministers.

The Council is given the task of adopting strategies for establishing security, identifying security threats, and taking actions to address them.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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