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New Egypt constitution approved amid boycott

Egypt's Islamist assembly members hurriedly approved a draft constitution [text, PDF] on Friday without the participation of liberal or Christian members, raising concerns [press release] among many human rights organizations such as Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website]. The approved constitution seeks to uphold the "principles of Islamic Law." According to AI, the document's language "ignores the rights of women, restricts freedom of expression in the name of protecting religion, and allows for the military trial of civilians." Approximately 30 Christian and liberal members boycotted the assembly in protest of the Islamist members' loyalty to President Mohammed Morsi [BBC backgrounder], who recently caused a political uproar when he issued a decree granting himself sweeping powers. The Islamist-dominated panel then hurried to approve the draft before Sunday, when Egypt's highest judicial power is expected to render a decision that would dissolve the panel entirely. The hurried approval of the country's new constitution by Islamists sparked protests [Reuters report] by tens of thousands of Egyptians The newly approved constitution is expected to be put to a nationwide referendum as early as mid-December.

Egyptian lawmakers reached an agreement on the composition of the constitutional panel [JURIST report] in June, after a controversy over the political balance threatened to halt the drafting of a new constitution. Prior to this agreement, the domination of the proceedings by Islamists [JURIST report] had been extremely controversial. This debate followed an Egyptian court ruling in February that the elaborate voting system in the parliamentary elections was unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In January, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called on Egypt's newly elected parliament to pursue an agenda to reform nine areas of Egyptian law [JURIST report] that impede freedom and restrict rights. Some of the suggested reforms included ending the state of emergency, reforming police law and expanding freedom of expression, strengthening the criminal penalties for police abuse, amending Egypt's definition of torture to be in line with international standards and allowing independent NGOs to operate lawfully in the country.

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