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 stripping the old document of parts that had set the stage for the creation of an Islamic state.
The new draft constitution is a key first step in implementing a political transition laid down by the military after it removed Mohammed Morsi from power. A 50-member panel declared the draft finished Monday, paving the way for a nationwide referendum within 30 days to ratify the document.
The military-backed government has heralded the draft charter as a step toward democracy - seeking to prove the credentials of the post-Morsi 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 express fears 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 following 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 new 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 Morsi's Islamist allies.
Steps to Political Transition
A look at key articles in Egypt's draft charter, which faces a referendum within 30 days:
Civilian government. 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.
Islamic law. 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 legislate stricter Islamic law. It also deletes a reference to a role for Al-Azhar, the country's main Islamic institution, in overseeing legislation.
The military. 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. - APEndText