Egypt’s new constitution has been finalised after being rushed through in a vote by the country’s Islamist-led assembly on 30 November. The move is seen as an attempt to quell the ongoing crisis over President Mursi's recently-expanded powers, but the opposition said it would trigger further protests, following eight days of demonstrations by liberals, leftists, Christians and moderate Muslims.
Mursi’s 22 November decree gave him sweeping powers and made it difficult for him to be removed from office – a measure his opponents described as a "coup against legitimacy" and reminiscent of the dictatorship of former president Hosni Mubarak, ousted in a popular revolution in February 2011.
However assembly members argue that approval of the new constitution in a referendum – which could take place as early as December – would see legislative powers pass from Mursi to the upper house of parliament.
It is seen as a gamble that Islamists can mobilise enough votes to sway the referendum in Mursi’s favour but the opposition has vowed to vote against it. The matter is further complicated by the fact that it would require the cooperation of judges, many of whom were angered by Mursi's decree which they claim has undermined the judiciary.
Among the biggest changes to the constitution are an eight-year limit to the president’s term of office (Mursi’s predecessor served for three decades), and greater controls over the military establishment – the president can declare war with parliament's approval, but only after consulting a national defence council. One of the potentially-contentious articles prevents insults, which human rights activists fear could be used against journalists who criticise the president or state officials.
However, based on the excerpts that have been seen by analysts, the constitution does not contain the deeply Islamist references feared by Mursi’s critics; neither does it contain the progressive and inclusive articles that liberals had been hoping for. The law defining the relationship between Islam and Egyptian law remains largely unchanged from the Mubarak era.
The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists have called for pro-Mursi rallies on 1 December but have said they would avoid central Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which was the catalyst of the country’s 2011 revolution. There are reports that 11 newspapers plan not to publish on 4 December in protest over Mursi's decree, and that three privately owned satellite channels will not broadcast on 5 December.
Since Mursi announced the decree on 22 November, two people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests that have led to Egypt's stock market tumbling to a four-month low.