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Egypt: Interim PM hints at January constitution referendum - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Egyptian Interim Prime Minster Hazem El-Beblawi said it would be a grave mistake to abandon the constitutional referendum. (AFP /Gianluigi Guercia)

Egyptian Interim Prime Minster Hazem El-Beblawi said it would be a grave mistake to abandon the referendum on the constitution. (AFP/Gianluigi Guercia)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Interim Prime Minster Hazem El-Beblawi has called on all Egyptians to participate in the referendum on the constitution, saying that it will be a pivotal moment which will decide Egypt’s future. During a speech at an investment support conference in Cairo on Monday, Beblawi said: “I think the referendum will be held in the second half of January.”

Beblawi said that it would be a grave mistake for Egyptians to boycott the referendum, adding that this is essential for the establishment of a modern, developed and democratic Egypt which respected human rights. His comments follow reports of disagreements within Egypt’s 50-member constitution drafting committee, with sources claiming that a number of different parties have threatened to walk out.

The Elections Higher Commission, tasked with overseeing the forthcoming national referendum on the constitution, has revealed that voting will take place over a period of two days under judicial supervision.

Meanwhile, the 50-member committee has continued to revise the draft constitution ahead of a final vote set to begin later this week. The committee has reportedly reached a final agreement on the rights and liberties section, and is now discussing constituent powers.

Reports indicate there have been strong disagreements within the 50-member committee between representative of the armed forces and youth and journalist union representatives’ over draft constitutional articles relating to freedom of the press. Sources claim that Diaa Rashwan, head of the Egypt Journalists Syndicate, threatened to withdraw from the committee after armed forces’ representatives Gen. Magd El Din Barakat sought to add a clause about the leaking of defense secrets. The clause would restrict the reporting of news during times of war.

Meanwhile, discussions continued over the constitution preamble and references to the “civil” nature of the Egyptian state. Salafist Al-Nour Party representative Salah Abdel-Maboud said that the committee was close to agreeing a final draft of the preamble. Speaking to the press on Sunday, he confirmed that Al-Nour and Al-Azhar both object to the constitution containing an explicit reference to a “civil” identity, saying this could be misused.

A Nour Party member, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, affirmed that “there has been disagreement over the preamble of the constitution because of the demand to omit the term ‘civil.’”

However Bishop Paul, representative of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, threatened to officially withdraw from the constitution panel in protest to a perceived Nour party influence of the preamble.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Bishop Paul said: “Representatives of Egypt’s churches withdrew from the 2012 constituent assembly after Islamists insisted on drafting a new article that would define the principles of Islamic Sharia. It seems that we will have to withdraw again, because the revised constitution’s preamble offers a definition of Islamic sharia as per the Nour Party’s demand.”

There are other issues causing conflict within the 50-member committee, including parliamentary quotes for women, Copts, youth, laborers and farmers’.