Middle East

How a 'yes' or 'no' will shape Egypt's future

An Egyptian distributes copies of the new constitution on a street in Cairo, Egypt Image copyright AP
Image caption Copies of Egypt's new constitution are available on the streets of Cairo

Egypt is holding a referendum on a new constitution.

If approved, it will replace a controversial charter passed under President Mohammed Morsi just over a year ago, and seven months before he was ousted by the military.

Why is Egypt holding a referendum?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The top poster features army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and urges people to vote 'yes'

In December 2012, the previous constitution was approved in a referendum by 64% of voters, on a turnout of just 33%. This constitution was then suspended when the military deposed Mr Morsi in July 2013. The interim authorities are keen to show that there is popular support for their removal of the president and the subsequent crackdown on the Islamist movement he belongs to, the Muslim Brotherhood.

A "yes" vote would pave the way for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

Why was the previous constitution criticised?

Critics said the 100-strong Islamist-dominated panel that drafted the December 2012 constitution was unrepresentative of Egyptian society. Liberal and secularist groups said the document failed to protect the freedoms they sought in the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. They particularly criticised provisions relating to military courts and the principles of Sharia.

They also said it did not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians, who make up about 10% of the population.

How different is the new text?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Political forces are divided over whether to vote in favour or against of the draft

The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member panel that included only two representatives of Islamist parties. Under the new charter, Islam remains "the religion of the state" and the "principles of Sharia" are still "the main source of legislation". But a provision in the 2012 constitution that gave a detailed definition of the "principles" has been removed. Parties may not be "formed on the basis of religion, gender, race or geography", while the previous text said only that they could not "discriminate" on the basis of religion.

During the first two presidential terms after the constitution is ratified, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) - the governing body of senior officers in the military - must approve the appointment of the defence minister. This article, which has no equivalent in the 2012 constitution, implies that the president will not have a free hand in choosing the defence minister. Also, an expanded article on military courts specifies that civilians may be tried there for "direct attacks" on military premises, personnel, equipment, documents or funds.

For the first time, parliament has the power to remove an elected president and prosecute him.

What do people think about the new charter?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Salafist Nour Party, led by Younes Makhyoun, is likely to vote 'Yes'

As referendum day approaches, political forces are divided over whether to vote in favour of the draft, reject it, or boycott the whole process. Those who back the document include the Salafist Nour Party as well as liberal parties, such as the Dustour Party, the Wafd Party and the Free Egyptians Party. The Popular Current and Tamarod (Revolt) movements are also campaigning for a "yes" vote.

But others - like the Strong Egypt Party, 6 April Youth Movement (which led protests against Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi), Revolutionary Socialists movement, and No To Military Trials movement - are against some articles which preserve some of the military's wide-ranging powers. Some groups say they cannot participate in a process set up by what they call the "coup authorities".

The pro-Muslim Brotherhood National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) plans to boycott the referendum. NASL is a coalition of Islamist parties who say they want to "protect the revolution" and "defend the legitimacy" of Mr Morsi. Egyptian state and private TV channels are mostly airing views in favour of the constitution.

Will there be violence?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have continued to protest

The referendum comes at a time when Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been protesting across the nation since the interim government designated the group as a terrorist organisation in December. The government says it has a tight security plan.

Security forces are taking a zero-tolerance approach towards unauthorised demonstrations under a new protest law which bans gatherings of more than 10 people without first notifying the authorities. The interior ministry says 200,000 police officers, 150 central security units and 200 combat groups will be deployed around polling stations on both days of the referendum.

More security forces will be sent to protect vital facilities, such as the Central Bank of Egypt, water and electricity stations, and parliament.

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