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Egypt releases partial draft of new constitution

The committee tasked with writing Egypt’s new constitution released an unfinished draft to the public Wednesday and encouraged Egyptians to start debating it.

But the document left out several key sections, reflecting the ongoing disputes that have dogged the drafting of Egypt’s first constitution since a popular uprising ended the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak last year.

A 100-member constituent assembly has been tasked with writing the new charter, after the 1971 constitution was suspended when Mubarak stepped down in February 2011.

But the process of translating the values of the new Egypt into codified law has proved so contentious that members of the Islamist-dominated panel said that Wednesday’s incomplete draft was intended largely to build public support for the process while they continue to spar over the specifics.

“It’s to alleviate the pressure,” said Gamal Gad Nassar, a constitutional law expert and a member of the assembly. He said the committee had not voted on the draft and that the material that was released was a collection “of the many drafts and readings the assembly has discussed.”

Missing from the draft are crucial sections that would define the nature of Egypt’s new system of checks and balances, as well as the future role for its military after the first democratic presidential election in the country’s history ended six decades of military rule.

“This is obviously a work in progress,” said Nathan Brown, a professor of political science at George Washington University. “Will the cabinet have no oversight responsibilities over parliament? There’s a lot of ambiguity in there.”

The draft left Article 2, which stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state and that Islamic law is the principal source of legislation, intact. But it included a new article that limits gender equality to the extent that it interferes with “the rulings of the Islamic Sharia” — a provision that has sparked a backlash and threats of a mass walk-out by liberals and rights groups.

Another controversial article that had been previously leaked but did not appear in Wednesday’s draft would give Al-Azhar, the country’s highest Islamic authority, unprecedented powers to review forthcoming laws.

Mohamed el-Beltagi, an assembly member from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party said the draft marks the launch of the assembly’s “Know your constitution” campaign.

“It is the right of every Egyptian in and outside of Egypt to review the draft [and] suggest articles that are even better than what is already in there,” he told reporters Wednesday at a press conference where copies of the draft were handed out.

Committee members are hoping to finalize the document and put the new constitution to a national referendum by the end of the year.

Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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