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Egyptian military granted powers in draft constitution

| Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

CAIRO — Extensive amendments of the constitution adopted under Egypt's ousted Islamist president give the military more privileges, enshrining its place as the nation's most powerful institution and the source of real power, while removing parts that liberals feared set the stage for establishing an Islamic state.

The draft constitution is a key first step in implementing a political transition laid down by the military when it removed Mohamed Morsy from power. A 50-member panel declared the draft finished on Monday, paving the way for a nationwide referendum within 30 days to ratify.

The military-backed government has heralded the draft charter as a step toward democracy — seeking to prove the credentials of the post-Morsy system amid continuing protests by Islamists furious over the coup against the country's first freely elected president.

The amended document enshrines personal and political rights in stronger language than past constitutions. But rights experts fear that the political power carved out for the military could leave those rights irrelevant.

One key clause states that for the next two presidential terms, the armed forces will enjoy the exclusive right of naming the defense minister, an arrangement that gives the military autonomy above any civilian oversight and leaves the power of the president uncertain. The charter does not say how the post will be filled after that eight-year transitional period.

“This just paves the way for a bigger role for the army in becoming the main power broker,” said Hossam el-Hamalawy, a leading member of the Revolutionary Socialists movement, a key player in the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for 29 years.

The run-up to the referendum is likely to be contentious. Egypt's leadership is pushing for the revised charter to win by a greater margin than the 2012 one, which was the country's first post-Mubarak constitution and was largely drafted by Morsy's Islamist allies.

That document won a December 2012 referendum with about 64 percent of the vote, but with a low turnout of little more than 30 percent. A bigger margin and stronger turnout could be touted as a show of the legitimacy of the post-coup system.

Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood and its followers reject the new government and the transition process, demanding Morsy's return — and they are likely to push ahead with protests to derail the document. Secular activists will likely campaign against the charter because of the power it gives the military.

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