Egypt plans to choose its president before its parliament
CAIRO - Egypt's political transition was pitched into uncertainty on Sunday when a draft constitution was amended to allow a presidential election to be held before parliamentary polls, indicating a potential change in the army's roadmap.
The roadmap unveiled when Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July said a parliamentary election should take place before the presidential one.
But the draft finalized on Sunday by the 50-member constituent assembly avoids saying which vote should happen first, leaving the decision up to President Adly Mansour.
"Now we have approved the draft," Amr Mussa, the head of the 50-member constitution-drafting panel, announced on live television.
"The draft will be given to (interim president) Adly Mansour on Tuesday," he said, adding: "Long live Egypt."
The draft also says the "election procedures" must start within six months of the constitution's ratification, meaning Egypt may not have an elected president and parliament until the second half of next year.
A major milestone in Egypt's political roadmap, the constitution must be approved in a referendum expected this month or next. Amr Moussa, chairman of the constituent assembly, said the draft constitution would be handed to Mansour on Tuesday.
Moussa, former Arab League secretary general, was a candidate in the presidential election won by Morsi last year.
The draft reflects how the balance of power has shifted in Egypt since the secular-minded generals ousted Mursi, the country's first freely elected head of state, after mass protests against him and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The new constitution could lead to an outright ban on Islamist parties and strengthens the political grip of the already powerful military establishment that has put itself squarely back at the heart of power since toppling Morsi.
The assembly finished voting on the draft after talks on the order of next year's elections stretched late into Sunday night.
The changes follow debate fuelled by concern that weak secular parties are not ready for parliamentary elections, sources familiar with the discussions have said.
Seeing army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the front-runner for president, some assembly members wanted the presidential election held before legislative polls or even at the same time so that a strong presidential candidate can forge an electoral alliance for the parliamentary race.
The draft constitution widens the already broad privileges enjoyed by the army by requiring the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for the choice of a defense minister to serve for two full presidential terms from the moment the document is ratified.
It does not indicate how the minister of defense could be sacked or who has the authority to fire him.
It also allows the military to try civilians in military courts - a holdover from previous constitutions. The draft does, however, specify the crimes for which a civilian can be tried by the military.
The constitution will replace one signed into law by Morsi last year after it was passed in a referendum. The new text strips out Islamist-inspired additions introduced by the Islamist-dominated assembly that drafted it.
Morsi's fall set off the bloodiest strife in Egypt's modern history.
Armed attacks on the security forces have become commonplace, and some 200 policemen and soldiers have been killed in what the government casts as a war on terrorism waged by Islamist militants. The Brotherhood says it is peacefully resisting the army takeover.
In a reminder of the simmering tension, security forces fired teargas in Cairo's Tahrir Square to disperse anti-government protesters.
"The people want to topple the regime," chanted several hundred protesters. "With our blood and souls we sacrifice for you, Islam," chanted some. One scaled a lamp post to hang a picture of Morsi.
Others flashed the four-finger hand sign denoting sympathy with the hundreds of Mursi supporters shot dead by the security forces when they broke up their Cairo sit-ins on August 14.
Army vehicles moved in to drive the demonstrators away and later sealed off the square completely. Some passersby shouted abuse at the protesters, others waved in support. Earlier, protesters set a police truck ablaze near Cairo University.
The government says it is determined to implement a law passed last week that heavily restricts protests. Criticized by the United States, the law has hardened fears of pro-democracy campaigners about the future of political freedoms in Egypt.
Ahmed Maher, one of two leading secular activists detained for calling protests in defiance of the law, was released on Sunday. The other, Alaa Abdel Fattah, was ordered detained for a further 15 days. Both are symbols of the historic 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak's downfall.