President hails new Egyptian constitution

Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 00:00

Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has said Egypt is experiencing a “new dawn” following the adoption of the post-uprising constitution which was signed into law on Tuesday.

The election commission confirmed its adoption by 64 per cent of Egyptian voters in this month’s referendum. While welcoming “differences of opinion,” Mr Morsi yesterday criticised violence which marred the run-up to the constitutional referendum.

“We must not go back to an Egypt where there is only one opinion,” he said, referring to autocratic president Hosni Mubarak’s period in office when dissent was met with force.

Economic challenges

Mr Morsi said he would reshuffle his cabinet to meet the challenges confronting Egypt. The cabinet is headed by Hisham Kandil, a figure close to the Muslim Brotherhood, in which the president has his roots.

Mr Morsi attempted to conciliate critics in the judiciary who had castigated him for seizing power and putting himself above the law and called on the opposition to enter into national dialogue with the aim of drawing up a “road map” for the transition to “pluralistic democracy.” The opposition however has vowed to continue the struggle against Mr Morsi and the brotherhood.

His address followed a meeting of the fundamentalist-dominated upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, which has assumed legislative powers until a new lower house, the people’s assembly, is elected and inaugurated early next year.

The 270-member council, set up in 1980 as an advisory body, was asked to prepare for assembly elections, regulate the media and tackle corruption.

The assembly, elected last year, was dissolved in June and its powers appropriated by the military high command until last August, when the generals were ousted and full legislative and executive powers were taken by Mr Morsi.

Power grab

While his handover to the Shura Council appears to re-establish the separation of legislative and executive powers, the move is unlikely to reassure the opposition which accuses the brotherhood of a power grab.

Instead, the transfer is certain to tighten the brotherhood’s grip on both branches, leaving only the judiciary relatively free from the movement’s grasp.

Council speaker Ahmad Fahmi is not only a member of the brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, but is also Mr Morsi’s relative.

Political analyst Gamal Zahran told Ahram online that the council had once again become a bastion “of regime loyalists, just like it was under [overthrown president] Hosni Mubarak. This time it is loyal to the brotherhood and its sycophants.”

Among Mr Morsi’s appointees are 42 outright fundamentalists and 19 fundamentalist-leaning independents who will bolster the fundamentalist bloc, giving it 75 per cent of council seats.

The new members include deputy head of Freedom and Justice Essam El-Erian, who has called for the formation of a new government under brotherhood tycoon, financier and strongman Khairat El-Shater.

He would be expected to implement the movement’s Nahda, or renaissance, agenda which involves the gradual “Islamisation” of Egypt.

The constitution, drafted by the brotherhood and ultra-orthodox Salafis, has split the country between fundamentalists and secularists.

Legitimacy

Opponents contend that the document has no legitimacy because it lacks consensus since only a third of registered voters participated in the referendum.

Critics argue the document discriminates against Christians and women, grants autonomy to the military, enshrines the Muslim canon law, Sharia, and permits clerical interpretation of legislation.

As the Freedom and Justice party began organising for the assembly election and selecting candidates, the ongoing contention over the constitution has intensified the atmosphere of crisis in the country. This has precipitated a fall in the value of the Egyptian pound, prompting a run on banks.