Egypt said Saturday a referendum on a new draft constitution will be held next month, the first step towards elected rule in a country deeply polarised after president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster.
“I call upon you to vote in a referendum on the revised draft constitution on January 14 and 15,” interim president Adly Mansour said in a speech to the nation, flanked by high-ranking officials and those who drafted the new charter.
The constitutional referendum is to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in mid-2014, according to a transition road map outlined by the new military-installed authorities.
The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member panel after the interim authorities suspended the previous version of the charter written under the Islamist Morsi.
Egypt’s first democratically elected president was ousted by the army on July 3 after massive street protests against his turbulent year-long rule.
Islamists led by the now banned Muslim Brotherhood movement to which Morsi belongs had won all the elections organised in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Morsi’s removal caused deep divisions amid a sweeping and deadly government crackdown targeting his supporters, mostly Islamists, that has left more than 1,000 people dead and thousands more arrested.
Mansour praised the revised draft for its provisions on the “securing of human rights, freedoms and the balancing of powers”.
“It is a good start on which to build the institutions of a democratic and modern state,” he said.
Amr Shobaki, a member of the panel that wrote the draft, told AFP Egypt was at a “turning point and its success would mean an end to a transitional phase as right now there are no elected institutions”.
The revised charter has come under severe criticism from secular movements and rights groups for retaining the powers and privileges of the military.
It allows the military to prosecute civilians in some cases, appoint the defence minister and keep its budget beyond civilian scrutiny — powers held by the legislature, executive and judiciary of most democracies.
“The fact that the draft would give the military a great deal of autonomy raises concerns about whether this institution will be held accountable for violations,” Amnesty International said after the draft was published.
“It also casts doubt over whether the government will be able to institute desperately needed reforms to ensure that the military, police and security agencies respect human rights and are subject to independent oversight.”
The rights group said that during the military junta’s 17-month rule after the fall of Mubarak, more than 12,000 civilians were tried unfairly by military courts.
‘Leap towards democracy’
Several political groups have already started low-level campaigning in favour of the new basic law.
The Tamarod (rebellion) movement that led the campaign against Morsi’s rule is backing the charter.
“Its an important leap towards democracy and realises the aims of the January 2011 revolution (against Mubarak) and the June 30 revolution (against Morsi),” said Mohammed Abdel Aziz, a leader of Tamarod.
But Islamists are divided, with the Salafist Al-Nur party saying it will campaign in favour of it and pro-Morsi groups against it.
The Anti-Coup Alliance led by the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement earlier in December that it “rejects as a total waste of billions of Egyptian pounds a potentially rigged and certainly unconstitutional referendum to rubber stamp the country’s most important document”.
On Saturday, Mansour urged all Egyptians to participate in the referendum.
“I don’t want to end this speech without talking to those who had different opinions in the past period. I ask them to be brave and to get rid of their stubbornness… I ask them to join the national pride,” he said.
Egypt’s Islamists were also divided over Morsi’s ouster, with Al-Nur backing the military in deposing him along with Christian and Muslim religious institutions.
The Anti-Coup Alliance has staged near daily pro-Morsi protests since his removal.
The now discarded 2012 constitution written under Morsi was drafted by a 100-member panel dominated by his Islamist allies.
The panelists who drafted the new constitution have said it is up to Mansour to decide which election to hold first, the presidential one or the parliamentary one.