The 2012 constitution, influenced heavily by ultraconservative Salafi politicians and religious thinkers who were allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, contained many articles restricting personal freedoms and the rights of women and minorities. It introduced vague references to how those rights would be defined by law or interpreted from the constitution, leaving what human-rights watchdogs feared were back doors for conservative religious interpretations. But the new draft:
- Deletes language about “preserv(ing) the inherent character of the Egyptian family” and commits the state to “achieving equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.” The document also enshrines a provision banning discrimination “on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation or for any other reason.”
- Forbids “slavery and all forms of oppression and forced exploitation,” including all forms of human trafficking and defines a child as any person under the age of 18 — likely in order to prevent child marriage.
- Deletes articles that criminalized insulting religious prophets and allowed judges to implement sentences not based in the penal code.
- Orders the new parliament, in its first term, to pass a law “to organize building and renovating churches” — long a demand of the Coptic Church.
- Removes a much-feared article defining Sharia — “the principal source of legislation” in Egypt since 1980 — in a way that could be narrowly interpreted to conform with orthodox Sunni schools of thought favored by Salafis.
- Deletes an article mandating that Al Azhar, the country’s pre-eminent Islamic seminary, be consulted on “matters of Islamic law,” potentially making the scholars arbiters of hundreds of constitutional issues.
The new draft contains some attempts to limit the authority of the state and provide mechanisms for the public to hold the government accountable. While the 2012 constitution stated that anyone arrested “must not be tortured, threatened or degraded … (or) harmed physically or mentally,” the new draft makes “all forms of torture” a crime without a statute of limitation.
Reflecting the troubles of Mohamed Morsi’s administration, during which there was no parliamentary procedure to withdraw confidence in the president, the new draft allows a majority of parliament to submit a motion of no confidence to the full house. If two-thirds of members approve it, a national referendum is held to determine if the president should be relieved of his duties and new elections held.
But in other areas, especially those concerning national security, the autonomy of powerful state institutions and the decentralization of Cairo’s authority, the new draft maintains the least progressive aspects of the 2012 constitution and earlier texts. The proposed document would:
- Make peaceful protest “regulated by the law,” applying restrictions passed by the interim government that force protests to receive prior approval from the notorious Interior Ministry.
- Expose civilians to military courts — a provision long opposed by protesters and human-rights activists — for a broad array of offenses, including any “crimes that represent a direct assault” against almost anything that falls under military authority.
- Give the president total authority to choose a prime minister and, in certain cases if his choice does not receive parliament’s approval, also choose the ministers of defense, justice and the interior. The president will continue to appoint governors.
- Grant a majority of parliament the power to approve the renewal of a state of emergency declared by the president rather than put the issue to a national referendum, as the 2012 constitution does.
- Give the judiciary, seen as a bastion of anti-Brotherhood power, the ability to choose the country’s attorney general and the makeup of the Supreme Constitutional Court. The judiciary’s budget would be presented to parliament as a single figure, making it the only institution other than the famously secretive military to be allowed to do so.