EGYPT: Human rights advocates want new constitution before elections


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Human rights organizations have called on the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces to allow a new constitution ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for September and December, respectively.

“We ask SCAF to engage constructively with demands from revolutionary forces to ... give priority to the drafting of a new constitution for the country whose provisions will govern the institutions of a democratic regime,” a statement issued on Thursday and signed by 11 human rights groups read.


The military council dissolved Egypt’s lower and upper houses of parliament and suspended the constitution on Feb.13 -- two days after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. A committee of lawmakers and judges quickly amended the existing constitution. On March 19, over the objections of youth acitivists and revolutionary leaders who were demanding a new constitution, Egyptians voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendments.

The amended articles called for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held this year and require that the new parliament and president form a committee to to write a new constitution within six months of electing the president. Human rights advocates, however, protested that a consitution should be written before a new govermnment is elected.

“The insistence on putting the cart before the horse --that is electing a parliament based on the rules of the old regime’s constitution before preparing a constitution for the new order -- will allow parties that win elections to manage the drafting of the constitution with accordance to their own narrow interests,” said the human rights groups’ statement.

The National Front for Change Youth and other youth coalitions have called for a million-man march in Tahrir Square on July 8 to demand a new constitution. The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest and best organized opposition party, which is expected to pick up many seats in parliamentary elections, is against the youth protest.

“Those calls are an attempt to pounce on the legitimacy of the people who voted in favor of holding elections before forming a constitution. We can’t put the whole society’s future on hold just because some political forces didn’t do their homework for the upcoming elections,” said Ahmed Abou Barak, a prominent Brotherhood member.

The Brotherhood boycotted Tahrir Square protests on May 27, when demonstrators called for speeding up democratic reforms and drafting a constitution ahead of elections.


-- Amro Hassan in Cairo