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Draft constitution opens the door for military domination: ANHRI

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Human rights organisations acknowledge improvement in the draft, yet highlight articles which could limit rights and freedoms

A handout picture released by Egyptian presidency shows Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour annoucing that a referendum on a new draft constitution will be held next month, during a press conference in Cairo on December 14, 2013. The constitutional referendum is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in mid-2014, according to a transition road map outlined by the new military-installed authorities.  AFP PHOTO / HO / EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/HO/EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===

A handout picture released by Egyptian presidency shows Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour annoucing that a referendum on a new draft constitution will be held next month, during a press conference in Cairo on December 14, 2013.
(AFP PHOTO / HO / EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY)

Despite being comprised of mostly positive articles, Egypt’s new draft constitution includes articles which open the door for further military domination, according to the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

The draft constitution was submitted to interim President Adly Mansour on 3 December. Mansour called for a referendum on the draft by mid-January.

ANHRI highlighted constitutional articles it did not welcome in a statement released on Sunday. The organisation criticised comments made by the Constituent Assembly and cabinet members in which it alluded to the coming parliament’s right to amend the constitution.

“This is clearly reflective of the inability of several articles of the draft constitution to meet peoples’ demands and [grant them their] rights,” the statement read.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) meanwhile said that despite “relative improvement” in the draft, especially in articles concerning personal rights, the organisation spotted the Constituent Assembly’s failure to make a real “leap” in the treatment of the rights and freedoms afforded to the Egyptian people.

In a statement released on Sunday, EIPR said that the shortcomings in the draft constitution could have been avoided if the Constituent Assembly had held a societal dialogue, especially with regards to those articles dealing with the military and religious institutions.

ANHRI called for the removal of Articles 7 and 10. Article 7 designates Al-Azhar Institution as the main authority for questions relating to “religious sciences and Islamic issues.” The organisation pointed out that this negates “unofficial efforts,” to explain religious matters, adding that it gives the state exclusive authority over such concerns, which could in turn threaten freedom of expression and give Al-Azhar the right to censor literature and other creative works.

Article 10 obliges the state to care for the family’s “stability” and “reinforce its values.” The human rights organisation condemned this article for giving the State authority to intervene in the private affairs of citizens.

ANHRI criticised the constitution’s rights and freedoms section for failing to clearly ban  indefinite preventative detention of citizens. The rights organisation asserted that this power allows authorities to restrict the freedom of citizens before being proven guilty of any crime or offence.

Article 73 codifies the right to peaceful assembly, yet reserves a mechanism through which citizens are required to notify the authorities of their planned protests. Such a mechanism, the rights organisations said, leaves  freedom of assembly to the discretion of authorities. ANHRI recommended in their statement an  amendment to the article which requires that assembly organisers only announce their plans for assembly and not be required to obtain the permission of the government.

The newly passed Protest Law requires assembly organisers to submit a written notification to the concerned authorities at least three working days in advance of any planned protest. It also gives the Minister of Interior the right to cancel, move or change the route of an assembly should they have reason to believe that the assembly in question may “threaten peace and security.”

Further, ANHRI criticised Article 76 for preventing those working in the Ministry of Interior from establishing unions. It highlighted the need for such unions to defend employee rights as well as carry out disciplinary procedures in the event of employee violations.

ANHRI pointed out the failure of Article 198 to address lawyers’ rights, such as the right to immunity in carrying out their duties. The organisation said that this is a setback for lawyers, pointing out that lawyers frequently face “harassment by judges, police, and public prosecution.”

The human rights organisation said that the draft constitution extended authority of the armed forces in a manner which “almost turns [the armed forces] into a state within the state.”

Article 201 states that the defence minister is to be appointed by the general commander of the armed forces, adding that he must be a member of the military. ANHRI stated that this would “drag the armed forces into the nation’s political life, therefore harming the former.” It also criticised Article 203 for giving the National Defence Council the right to discuss the budget of the armed forces, adding that the discussion of the budget should be the responsibility of an elected  parliament.

ANHRI also condemned Article 204, which allows for military trials of civilians. The organisation said the article expanded the military judiciary’s authority, giving it exclusive jurisdiction to decide on cases concerning military personnel and any citizen who falls under their auspices. ANHRI called for completely banning military trials for civilians.

Article 234 necessitates the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) approval of the appointment of the defence minister for the next two presidential terms.  ANHRI denied the need for such an article, saying it would “confiscate” the president’s right to appoint the defence minister.

The draft constitution has been scrutinised by international human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which said that the text falls short of Egypt’s international human rights obligations despite fixing some deficiencies in the 2012 constitution.

Some political parties have already announced their position in the upcoming constitutional referendum. The Salafi Al-Nour Party has announced its strong support for the draft, urging Egyptians to vote Yes in the January poll. Other parties, including the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the Free Egyptians Party, have also voiced support for the drafted amendments.

Former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh’s Misr Al-Qawia urged voters to oppose the draft at the polls, criticising the autonomy the document grants to the military and the powers of the executive branch granted by the draft.


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