Egypt seeks quick elections

Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour has issued a 33 article transitional constitution that will guide the country after the removal of Mohamed Morsy last week by the Armed Forces in response to wide-scale protests.

Announced early Tuesday, amid soaring violence between the army and Morsy backers, the declaration will establish two panels that will draft amendments to the suspended constitution. The first panel, comprised of ten judicial authorities and law professors, will be formed within two weeks, and will be asked to submit a provisional set of amendments to the suspended constitution.  A second panel, composed of 50 representatives from various social groups, will review the first panel's suggestions and have 60 days to submit a final draft of the amendments to be made.  
 
Citizens will be called to vote on the amended constitution within four months, and in parliamentary elections two weeks after the document is ratified, according to the declaration. Presidential elections will be held six months from now, the declaration stipulates.
 
Article 24 grants Mansour legislative powers in collaboration with the government, but he will give up this authority to parliament once it has been formed.
 
In article 33, the declaration authorizes Mansour, with the approval of the government, to declare a state of emergency  for a maximum of three months. The state of emergency cannot be extended unless approved through a public referendum.
 
In article 19, the transitional constitution does not specify under what circumstances judicial cases can be referred to military courts.  It says that military courts form an independent body that has the exclusive competence to give judgement on all crimes related to the Armed Forces, its officers, and its personnel.
 
In article 198 of the suspended constitution, the document says that “no civilians shall be prosecuted before military courts except for crimes that 'bring damage' to the Armed Forces.”
 
In what appeared to be an olive branch to Islamists, the decree included controversial language put into the constitution last year that defined the principles of Islamic sharia law.

The declaration holds “principles of Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation.”

Whether that will be enough to lure back the hardline Islamist Nour Party, which had supported the military-led transition plans until Monday's attack, remains to be seen.

However, it was faulted for repeating flaws in the 2011 transition plan that contributed to the current crisis.

Nathan Brown, a leading expert on Egypt's constitution at George Washington University in Washington, said that while Monday's decree laid out a clear sequence for transition, it repeated many of the mistakes of the post-Mubarak process.

"It was drawn up by an anonymous committee; it was issued by executive fiat; the timetable is rushed; the provisions for consultation are vague; and it promises inclusiveness but gives no clear procedural guidelines for it," he told Reuters.

The Brotherhood movement has refused to have anything to do with the process, and thousands of supporters have camped out in northeast Cairo for the last five days and vowed not to budge until Morsy returns as president – a seemingly vain hope.

The events have worried Western allies. The United Nations said it was "gravely concerned" about mounting violence in Egypt and said the country was on a "precarious path."

"The Secretary-General condemns these killings and calls for them to be thoroughly investigated by independent and competent national bodies," it said in a statement.

The United States, still refraining from calling the military intervention a "coup" – a label that would trigger legal obstacles to continuing aid payments – called on Egypt's army to exercise "maximum restraint."

The White House said it was not about to halt aid to Egypt.

The Egyptian military, recipient of $1.3 billion a year from Washington, has insisted that the overthrow was not a coup and that it was enforcing the "will of the people" after millions took to the streets on 30 June to call for Morsy's resignation.