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Egypt's new constitution to ban religious parties

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An Egyptian committee tasked with drafting a new constitution has approved an article that forbids the formation of religious parties.

Forty-eight members of the 50-member panel present on Saturday voted on the 247 articles of the new charter and approved more than half of the articles, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

Voting on the remaining articles will resume on Sunday afternoon. If adopted in full, the constitution is expected to be put to a referendum in December or early next year.

Articles approved on Saturday included one forbidding the formation of religious parties or parties based on religious grounds. The ban was in force during Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship.

The article is expected to have consequences for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party — a party of President Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled by the army in July.

Rights groups say the new charter strengthens the military and grants immunity to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Earlier this month, it was revealed that General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the army chief and minister of defense, had been seeking immunity for the military council for a period of five to ten years.

It has also been leaked that he asked for a media campaign to lobby for a specific clause to be included in the constitution.

The clause would allow Sisi to retain his post as defense minister in the event he loses in the presidential election.

The military representatives of the constitution-drafting committee also called for the constitution to allow the military to name the defense minister during the next two presidential terms.

The move has been widely criticized by legal experts, who say this would give the military more power than the president.

The drafting of the constitution was one of the thorniest issues during the brief term of Morsi, the Arab country’s first democratically elected president.

Morsi and his supporters wanted an Islamic constitution for the Muslim-majority nation, but opponents argued for a secular charter.

In December 2012, about 64 percent of voters approved the constitution in a two-round referendum.

After about six months, the Egyptian army ousted Morsi, a former leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a military coup.

On July 3, the Egyptian army chief announced that Morsi was no longer in office and declared that head of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adly Mahmoud Mansour had been appointed as the new interim president of Egypt. The army also suspended the constitution.

Army officials said Morsi, who took office in June 2012, was being held “preventively” by the military.

However, Morsi said on November 13 in a letter that he was kidnapped by the Republican Guard before the military formally removed him on July 3.

In the letter read out on TV by his defense lawyer Mohamed Damati, Morsi said, “The kind Egyptian people should know that I was kidnapped forcibly and against my will from July 2 to July 5 in a Republican Guard house until my aide and I were moved again forcibly to a naval base belonging to the armed forces for four full months.”

He also declared himself as Egypt’s legitimate leader, describing his overthrow as a military coup and a crime.

The Muslim Brotherhood has declined to negotiate with the new administration, saying they can only hold talks after Morsi is reinstated as president. They argue that the only legitimate constitution is the one voted on and ratified in December.


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