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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Egypt Holds Yet Another Referendum on a New Constitution

The 2012 constitution, that was passed during Morsi's presidency, was suspended after Morsi's removal on July third. It was widely criticized by secular political figures and activists alike for being shaped to the islamist view, and rushed. Despite its unpopularity the final text passed a referendum in December 2012.

Egypt is yet again facing another referendum on a new constitution; the second since the removal of Mubarak. A year ago Morsi pushed forward a vote on his Muslim Brotherhood version of the constitution, and now there's an attempt to push forward the military version. Not only are the interim president and many of Mubarak's friends behind this constitution, but also the military is backing this constitution, and working hard to crack down on any protest against it.

Although Morsi's supporters are not the only ones unhappy with this constitution, they are the only people who are boycotting it and protesting against it on the street, creating scenes of instability and chaos.

Egyptian activists believe that the new constitution has many improvements when it come to freedom, but still it is far from perfect. Where Morsi’s constitution fell short on basic freedom, the 2013 version seems to push for freedoms and holding Egypt to its obligations under international human rights treaties, but may apply more restriction on labor rights.

According to human rights activists, freedom of expression seems well-addressed in the amended document, however many fear that the loose definition could lead to possible limitation in future laws.

"The provision is okay, but it is weakened by the fact that it fails to define limitations or how to balance potential conflicts with other articles," Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Ahram Online.

Many political and economic experts argue about whether the draft constitution will help meet revolutionaries' demands for greater social justice. On the positive side, the new constitution may offer a true chance at social justice for Egyptians, especially farmers and workers.

There is also good news for Education and Health Care research. For example the 18, 19, 21 and 23 articles require that the state give a specific percentage to Education and Health from the Gross National Product (GNP).  The 2012 constitution, which was drafted under the presidency of Morsi, required the state only to allocate “an adequate amount" for these items from the state budget.

Despite the pros and cons for the new constitution, there is huge media coverage and a push for getting people to vote yes. A friend of mine counted over 60 billboards and posters in neighborhoods in Cairo alone encouraging people to vote yes. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood has been instigating violence all over Egypt, and many people were killed or arrested as a result of clashes with the security forces on the first day of voting.

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