CAIRO – Egypt's more than 52 million voters are going to the polls on Tuesday and Wednesday to decide whether to approve the country's rewritten constitution, which limits the scope of Islamic law and introduces new articles seen as a victory for rights advocates. It also expands the powers of the military in politics.
Here is a look at some of the key changes made to the constitution, previously enacted under the government of toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi:
In the preamble, the draft states that the charter "continues to build a democratic, modern country with a civilian government." The word "civilian," which in Arabic indicates non-religious and non-military, has stirred anger among ultraconservative Islamists who consider it synonymous with "secularist" when it was initially phrased as "civilian rule." Some liberal constituent panel members accuse head of the panel of unilaterally changing "rule" to "government" to appease Islamists without telling them.
The new charter retains Article 2, which says the "principles" of Islamic law, or Shariah, are the basis for legislation, a phrase that has been in all Egyptian constitutions since the 1970s. However, it removes a Morsi-era provision that gave a more precise definition for "principles" that could have been used to enact stricter Islamic law. It also deletes a reference to a role for Al-Azhar, the country's main Islamic institution, in overseeing legislation.
A key clause gives the armed forces the right to name the defense minister over the next two presidential terms, an arrangement that places the military above any civilian oversight for eight years and leaves the power of the president uncertain.
Rights advocates say that the new charter also fails to ensure any level of transparency for the armed forces' budget or details of its vast economic empire, which includes interests in construction, road building, bottled water and land reclamation.
Civilians can still be tried before military tribunals, a provision introduced in the Morsi-era constitution and a major source of tension between rights groups and the military since the ouster of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the country's 2011 revolution.
The draft gives the president the right to appoint a prime minister and gives parliament two chances to support the president's choices, or be disbanded. The timeframe for forming a Cabinet is 60 days.
For the first time, parliament has the power to remove an elected president and prosecute him over a list of crimes. Lawmakers can withdraw confidence from the president and call for early elections if they have a two-thirds majority and after a public referendum.
FREEDOM OF BELIEF:
The draft says the freedom of belief is "absolute." The 2012 Morsi-era constitution said freedom of belief was "preserved," but the freedom of religious practice and the establishment of houses of worship were restricted to "believers in heavenly religions" — Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Calls by rights groups to recognize the followers of any faith were turned down.
The draft prohibits political activity or the establishment of political parties based on religion, dealing a blow to movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, its Freedom and Justice party, and Al-Nour, an ultraconservative Salafi party.
The draft ensures equality between men and women, and says the state must take necessary measures to guarantee women have proper representation in legislative councils, hold senior public and administrative posts and are appointed to judicial institutions. It obligates the state to provide protection to women against "any form of violence."
The draft says the state is bound to all international agreements, including human rights covenants, already signed by Egypt.
The new charter gives authorities 24 hours for those arrested to be referred to interrogators where a lawyer must be present. The right for detainees "to remain silent" is ensured. Detainees have the right to appeal a detention order before a court within a week or be set free.
The draft prohibits "forced displacement," which Coptic Christians and other minorities suffered as a result of sectarian tensions or government expansionist plans.