Updated at: 12/10/2013 12:05 PM
By HAMZA HENDAWI
(AP) CAIRO - Egypt’s best-known diplomat said Tuesday that a constitution drafted by a 50-member panel he chaired offered unprecedented guarantees for democracy, individual freedoms and gender equality.
Amr Moussa, longtime Arab League chief and foreign minister, told The Associated Press that he hoped the charter will pass by a comfortable majority in a referendum expected to be held in mid-January.
"This is a constitution that answers to the requirements of the 21st century," said Moussa. "The constitution is very clear on democracy and freedoms."
A copy of the draft charter obtained from Moussa’s office states that men and women are equal in all rights and demands that the state ensures "appropriate" representation of women in public jobs and the judiciary. It also criminalizes torture, discrimination and inciting hatred.
It asks the next parliament to adopt a law that would lift longtime restrictions on the construction and restoration of churches, thus allowing Christians _ about 10 percent of Egypt’s estimated 90 million people _ to build and restore their places of worship.
"We have done everything we could," Moussa said when asked about whether the draft could have done more for women and Christians.
The draft’s provisions on freedoms and equality clash with assertions by many activists that the country’s police have resumed the brutal tactics that were among the main reasons behind the 2011 uprising that toppled the 29-year rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak. They also cite the closing down of Islamist TV channels loyal to former President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist ousted in July after just one year in office. Lately, activists have been sharply critical of a new law that places draconian restrictions on street protests.
Moussa’s take on the law appeared to strike a middle ground, saying that peaceful demonstrations must be allowed and protected, but that something had to be done about violent protests that disrupt the daily life of Egyptians _ a thinly veiled reference to the near daily demonstrations by Islamists demanding Morsi’s reinstatement.
"The law should have been further considered before being adopted," he said. "But we also have to agree that this is not the way to express views."
Critics of the draft constitution contend that it has accorded the military special status by allowing it to select its own candidate for the job of defense minister and empowering it to bring civilians before military tribunals, which they say often result in a miscarriage of justice. Human rights activists say that at least 10,000 civilians were tried before military tribunals during the nearly 17 months of direct military rule after the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Moussa finished a distant fifth in Egypt’s 2012 presidential election. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Morsi, won the vote in a run-off and became Egypt’s first freely elected president, succeeding Mubarak.
After Morsi’s election victory, Moussa emerged as a key figure in an alliance of opposition parties that campaigned against the Islamist president and supported street protests demanding Morsi step down. The military eventually stepped in and ousted Morsi in a July 3 coup.
In the eyes of many in Egypt, the new constitution’s adoption by a respectable margin in the national referendum would be tantamount to a vote of confidence in the military-backed administration installed in the wake of the coup. Beside the new constitution, a road map announced by the military on the day of the coup provides for parliamentary and presidential elections by the summer of 2014.
"I believe and expect that there will be a huge turnout," Moussa said at his office in parliament’s upper house, or Shura Council, which is to be scrapped under the new constitution. As for the percentage of voters backing the draft charter, he said: "I really hope that it would be over 70 percent."
The 2012 constitution written under Morsi was adopted by about 63 percent of the votes, but had a turnout of just over 30 percent.
Moussa also defended the powers the new charter gives Egypt’s military, saying it is in the nation’s interest at the present time. The charter gives the military veto power over who becomes defense minister for two, four-year presidential terms starting with the next one. It also gives the military the right to try civilians before its own tribunals in a wide range of cases mostly related to attacking military facilities or assaulting on-duty soldiers.
"The armed forces are widely respected and are being attacked. They lose soldiers and officers every day," said Moussa in defense of the articles pertaining to the military. "There is a consensus that we are going through very dangerous circumstances. The army is under attack and we all have to stand firm behind it."
Morsi’s supporters have been staging near daily protests, sometimes at sites near military facilities, to call for his reinstatement. The demonstrations have often ended violently.
The protests are taking place against the backdrop of a major crackdown by the authorities against Morsi’s Brotherhood as well as a military campaign in the strategic Sinai Peninsula that aims to quash an insurgency by Islamist militants. At least 1,000 people have been killed in the crackdown against the Brotherhood and thousands more, including Morsi and many of the group’s leaders, are in detention while on trial or waiting for charges to be filed against them.
Moussa ruled out running for any official position "for now," saying he wanted to focus on campaigning for the constitution. But he appeared to leave the window open for future offers.
"I enjoy being a simple citizen, a responsible citizen. I have no plans to run for any post. As you see, I participate in public life and that is to me is more important." But he added: "In my opinion, I am ruling out certain capacities (posts) and I will leave it at that for the time being."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)