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Despite Protests, Egypt Has A New Constitution


After weeks of protest, Egypt officially has a new constitution. It's the blueprint for a new democracy that's still finding its way. We've been reporting on the sometimes violent protests leading up to the vote and accusations that Islamist leaders and Egypt's new president were hijacking the process. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us from Cairo to discuss the latest.

Good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, the vision behind this constitution is that mainly of Egypt's Islamists. So describe for us the kind of society that it maps out for that country.

FADEL: Well, in some ways, people are concerned that this will expand the role of Islam in Egypt. It gives a consulting role to the highest religious authority. But also, it's quite similar to the 1971 constitution that was used during former President Hosni Mubarak's regime. And so many people actually are complaining that it's an authoritarian constitution that still allows for military trials of civilians, that doesn't protect minorities, that doesn't protect women. So those are the concerns when it comes to this constitution.

MONTAGNE: Well, given the protests - and some of them actually leading to some deaths - that led up to this final vote, how polarized would you say Egypt is now?

FADEL: I think we're still seeing an extremely polarized society. The vote was a 64 percent majority, but there were many people who didn't vote at all. There was a very low turnout of 33 percent. We're seeing a society that doesn't agree on the future of what Egypt should look like.

And I think we're going to continue to see some unrest, as well as really a mobilization politically of the opposition that we haven't seen before, trying to gain the upper hand in the parliamentary elections that are expected in two months, trying to have the influence that they've been unable to have so far, that Islamists have had because they've done so well at the polls.

MONTAGNE: Well, now, is there anything that might be defined as a sort of silent majority out there? You've got your opposition, which is very active. And, of course, you've got your Islamists who are controlling the government. What about all the other people out there, who aren't particularly political, what's the sense there?

FADEL: Yeah, I think there is what we would call the silent majority who don't see the constitution as the be-all, end-all of their life. They're more concerned with things like unemployment. How do I put food on the table? And that's the part of society that we don't really know what side they're on. And that's indicative of the turnout that we saw. Thirty-three percent is lower than any election or any vote that we've seen since this transition began. And that silent majority, I think, is more concerned with getting back to the issues at hand, having stability again so that they can just deal with their lives.

MONTAGNE: Now, the constitution, now that it is official, what all happens now?

FADEL: Now, we'll see the parliamentary elections possibly in two months. That parliament, the lower house of parliament was dissolved by the courts at the behest of the military. That election is coming up.

And we also will likely see other changes. There's rumors of a major cabinet reshuffle. There's a possibility of this business tycoon, Khairat El-Shater, who could be the new prime minister. Something that's still just rumors. We may see a shake up in the court. So we're expecting to see a lot of political movement now that the constitution is in place, because that was sort of what was holding back any changes politically.

MONTAGNE: Finally, where does this fight over the constitution leave Islamist President Mohamed Morsi?

FADEL: Well, I think he comes out of this quite emboldened. This follows four weeks of what is really the biggest challenge to his rule since he was elected. He was able to show that despite the complaints, despite the critics, this constitution did pass. So in some ways he's emboldened. But he's also bruised from this battle. And he's dealing with an extremely polarized society.

It also is supposed to mean that he gives up a lot of these exceptional powers that he took on in order to get the constitution through. And the constitutional decrees that really set off all this unrest are supposed to become void. So he'll no longer be above the law. So we'll see what happens in the weeks to come.

MONTAGNE: Leila Fadel is speaking to us from Cairo. Thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.