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Egyptians living abroad vote in constitutional referendum

January 08, 2014, 19:48 UTC+3 CAIRO
The new constitution bans the creation of political parties and associations on a religious basis and allows civilians to be tried by military tribunals in exceptional cases
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© AP Photo/Manu Brabo

CAIRO, January 08, 19:33 /ITAR-TASS/. A referendum on Egypt’s draft new constitution started on Wednesday, January 8.

During five days, citizens of Egypt living outside the country will be able to vote for or against the draft worked out by the constitutional commission last autumn.

The voting takes place at the Egyptian diplomatic missions in all countries. The largest number of Egyptians - 46 percent of all Egyptians employed abroad - work in Saudi Arabia. More than 312,000 Egyptians are registered in Al Riyadh and Jeddah alone.

Egyptian mass media say that security had been tightened at the Egyptian Embassy in France.

In Egypt, the referendum will take place on January 14-15. Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour announced in the middle of December 2013 that a constitutional referendum will be held in the country in the middle of January and would last two days.

“Egypt is facing a critical moment that will decide its future,” Mansour said in an address to the nation. “I urge you to say ‘yes’ to the new constitution which is a step towards achieving our people’s goals.”

He said the new constitution defended freedoms and human rights and ensured the balance between different branches of government. “It is the starting point for building real institutions of a modern democratic state. We are facing complex challenges, but we can overcome them. There will be no going back. We will go further in order to build our future as it is the time for us to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of our people,” the president said.

He also urged his opponents to give up stubbornness and arrogance and said that there would be no room for strife and division in future Egypt.

A constitutional referendum will be the first practical step under the roadmap worked out by the army after the removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. It should be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. The previous constitution, which was adopted during the reign of Islamic fundamentalists and which sparked numerous disputes in society, was suspended this past summer by the military after the deposition of the president and dissolution of the parliament.

The new constitution was handed over to Mansour on December 3 by a 50-member ad hoc commission which had worked on it for two months. The constitution has 247 articles. The draft sets forth a new mechanism for electing the parliament, which will have one chamber. The upper house will be disbanded. The new parliament will consist of 450 members and will get a new name - House of Representative. Two-thirds of MPs will be elected from among independent candidates and the remaining one-third from among the candidates nominated by political parties. The head of state can appoint 5 percent of MP at his own discretion.

The new constitution bans the creation of political parties and associations on a religious basis and allows civilians to be tried by military tribunals in exceptional cases. The latter provision has raised serious objections from human rights activists and political forces. The phrase “Sharia principles form the foundation of legislation” has been returned to the constitution in its original version that existed from 1971 until the moment when Islamic fundamentalists removed the word “principles”, thus changing the entire meaning of the phrase.

The draft constitution proclaims Egypt to be an Islamic state with a civil system and government, with Arabic being its official language.

According to the Central Election Commission, about 53.4 million Egyptians are eligible to vote in the referendum.

A new constitution is the main element of the roadmap worked out by the military, which is designed to facilitate the political transition after the removal of President Mohamed Morsi from office on July 3, 2012. The transitional period that should end in January or February of 2014 with an early presidential election.

Morsi will go on trial on January 28 on charges of prison break in 2011, The Associated Press said in early January.

According to the prosecution, Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood members made a mass prison escape on January 28, 2011.

Morsi was removed from office by the army on July 3, 2013 several days of mass protests across the country where people demanded his resignation. He was put under arrest on July 26, 2013 on several charges, including incitement towards killing demonstrators and spying.

The Prosecutor General’s Office examined several lawsuits filed against Islamist leaders, mainly Muslim Brotherhood, including Morsi, and considered a variety of charges against them, such as espionage, repressions against peaceful demonstrators, incitement to murder, illegal possession of arms and explosives, undermining of national security and sovereignty, damage to the national economy.

Several Western countries, including the United States and Germany, have asked the incumbent Egyptian authorities to release Morsi.

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