Egypt's president will need to seek the opinion of the National Defence Council in addition to getting the approval of parliament to declare war, according to an article approved on Thursday by an assembly drafting the new constitution.
The old constitution in the era of Hosni Mubarak, a former air force commander, had only required the approval of parliament. The new article, will give the defence council, which includes top officers and civilians, a formal say in such a decision.
Mursi is Egypt's first president who does not hail from top military ranks.
Egypt’s Constituent Assembly also decided on Thursday to keep “principles of shariah” or Islamic law as the main source of legislation, leaving the article’s language unchanged from the previous constitution.
The issue was the subject of a long dispute between hardline Salafi Islamists and liberals in the assembly which will vote on each of 234 articles in the draft constitution before it is sent to President Mohamed Mursi for approval. After that, Mursi must put it to a popular referendum.
The body writing Egypt’s new constitution began a session to vote on a final draft on Thursday, a move President Mohamed Mursi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood hope will help end a crisis prompted by a decree expanding his powers.
The constitutional panel is voting on the constitution article by article.
Mursi is expected to call for national unity in a public address at 7.00 p.m. (1700 GMT) to ease the crisis, which has set off a week of protests and threatens to derail early signs of economic recovery from two years of turmoil.
In an interview with Time, Mursi said the majority supported his decree. But he added: “If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop.”
Two people have been killed and hundreds injured in countrywide protests ignited by the decree Mursi issued last Thursday, which gave him sweeping powers and placed him beyond legal challenge, deepening the divide between the newly empowered Islamists and their opponents.
Setting the stage for more confrontation, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have called for pro-Mursi protests on Saturday in Tahrir Square, where a sit-in by the president’s opponents entered a seventh day on Thursday.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that backed Mursi for president in June elections, hopes to end the crisis by replacing the controversial decree with an entirely new constitution to be approved by popular referendum.
“May God bless us on this day,” Hossam el-Gheriyani, the speaker of the constituent assembly, told members at the start of the session to vote on each of the 234 articles in the draft, which will go to Mursi for approval and then to a plebiscite.
It is a gamble based on the Islamists’ belief that they can mobilize voters to win the referendum. They have won all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
But critics say the bid to finish the constitution quickly could make matters worse.
The constitution is one of the main reasons Mursi and his Islamist backers are at loggerheads with opponents who are boycotting the 100-member constitutional assembly. They say the Islamists have hijacked it to impose their vision of the future.
The assembly’s legitimacy has been called into question by a series of court cases demanding its dissolution. Its standing has also been hit by the withdrawal of members including church representatives and liberals.
The Brotherhood argues that approval of the constitution in a referendum would bury all arguments about both the legality of the assembly and the text it has written in the last six months.
Once the assembly approves the draft it will go to Mursi for ratification, a step expected at the weekend. He must then call the referendum within 15 days.
Once the constitution is approved in a referendum, legislative powers will pass straight from Mursi to the upper house of parliament, in line with an article in the new constitution, assembly members said.
“This is an exit. After the referendum, all previous constitutional decrees, including March 2011’s decree and the current one that created all this political fuss, will fall automatically after 15 days,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan told Reuters.
Egypt has been without an elected legislature since the Islamist-dominated lower house was dissolved in June. New parliamentary elections cannot happen until the constitution is passed.
The constitution is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new, democratic Egypt following Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule. Mursi had extended its Dec. 12 deadline by two months, but the assembly speaker said the extra time was not needed.
The constitution will determine the powers of the president and parliament and define the roles of the judiciary and a military establishment that had been at the heart of power for decades until Mubarak’s downfall. It will also set out the role of Islamic law, or sharia.
“The secular forces and the church and the judges are not happy with the constitution, the journalists are not happy, so I think this will increase tensions in the country,” said Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
“I don’t know how the referendum can be organized if the judges are upset,” he added.
Egyptian elections are overseen by the judiciary.
Mursi says he is no pharaoh
Leading opposition figure and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa slammed the move to accelerate the constitution. He walked out of the assembly earlier this month. “This is nonsensical and one of the steps that shouldn’t be taken, given the background of anger and resentment to the current constitutional assembly,” he told Reuters.
The decree issued by Mursi has set him further at odds with opponents and worsened already tetchy relations with the judges, many of whom saw it as a threat to their independence. Two of Egypt’s courts declared a strike on Wednesday.
Mursi was unrepentant in the interview published overnight.
“I think you have seen the most recent opinion surveys. I think more than 80, around 90 percent of the people in Egypt are - according to these opinion measures - they are with what I have done. It’s not against the people, It’s with the people, coincides with the benefits,” he said.
Among other steps, the decree shielded from judicial review all decisions taken by Mursi until the election of a new parliament.
His opponents say it exposed the autocratic impulses of a man who was once jailed by Mubarak. Western governments expressed concern, and Human Rights Watch said it had given the leader more power than the military establishment he replaced.
A constitution must be in place before a new parliament can be elected. In the Time interview, Mursi disputed his opponents’ assertions that he had become a new pharaoh.
“The reason why I went to prison is that I was defending the judiciary and Egyptian judges. I know perfectly what it means to have separation between the three powers, executive power, legislative power and the judiciary,” he said.
“The president represents the executive power, and the president is elected by the people. And I’m keen that the people would have complete freedom of elections, and I’m keen on exchange of power through free elections,” he said.