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Egypt's second try at new constitution 'an improvement'

Egypt's second try at new constitution 'an improvement'
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Egyptians have been casting ballots in a referendum on their second new constitution in about a year.

The Islamists, who were removed from power by the army, passed one in December 2012.

That text got 64 percent public approval, but only a third of those eligible to vote did so – and there were bloody clashes between opposing camps, Islamists and non-Islamists.

That constitution has been short-lived, suspended by the army since they arrested the democratically-elected President Mohamed Mursi, who denounced his July 2012 arrest as a coup d’etat. The army then declared a three-month state of emergency and took over governing.

The man at the top became General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the Defence Minister. He is expected to run as candidate for the presidency in elections this April, once the new constitution, strongly backed by the army, is, in principle, endorsed by the people.

The new text says the defence minister is to be appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, for the first two presidential terms following the constitution taking effect.

It no longer allows military courts to try civilians, except in cases where they are charged with direct attacks on the army or its property.

These two articles are controversial, according to political analyst Hassan Nafaa, Head of the Political Science department at Cairo University.

Nafaa said: “The new constitution is a clear improvement over the 2012 one, in respect of individual and collective freedoms. I think the most important part of it is the provision giving power to the parliament to pass a vote of non-confidence in the president. That is unprecedented in Egypt. But I do not approve that military courts are still allowed to judge civilians under some circumstances. Nor do I approve of how the defence minister is appointed.”

The new constitution reconfirms Islam as Egypt’s official faith, while granting freedom of worship for other religions, and also, as before, enshrining Shariah Koran-based law and naming Arabic as the national language.