Egypt nominates Islamist constitution panel as liberals boycott
Published Sunday, March 25, 2012
Egypt's parliament has elected an Islamist-dominated panel to draft a new constitution, and liberal activists are scrambling to block the move, state media said on Sunday.
Thirty-nine of the 50 lawmakers chosen for the 100-member constituent assembly are Islamists, according to press reports, while they are also represented among the remaining 50 members drawn from outside parliament.
Liberal lawmakers had walked out on the vote in the joint parliament and senate session on Saturday, accusing the Islamist majority of trying to dominate the crucial panel.
The new constitution will replace the one annulled by the ruling military, which took power after an uprising ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak last year.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the largest in the parliament, has the biggest representation on the panel, followed by the Salafist Al-Nur party.
Only six women – three from the parliament and senate and the rest from civil society – were appointed, along with a handful of Coptic Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of about 80 million.
One of the Copts, Rafiq Habib, is a vice president of the FJP whose mother organization, the Brotherhood, argues that Copts and women may not head a Muslim country.
The 50 people appointed from outside parliament include a member of the ruling military council, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member seen as the group's religious guide, judges, lawyers and an activist who lost both eyes in clashes with police.
The official Al-Ahram newspaper reported on its website that the Islamists had the support of almost 40 percent of panel members elected from outside parliament and about 75 percent of its lawmakers.
The assembly is due to hold its first meeting on Wednesday, as a secular leaning group, the National Association for Change, and others pressed a court to annul the vote that elected the panel.
On Saturday, Coptic tycoon Naguib Sawiris, who founded the largest liberal party in parliament, bitterly condemned the process and announced his Free Egyptians Party members had walked out of the vote.
"It's ridiculous," he said. "A constitution being written by one force and one force alone. We tried our best but there was no use."
Two other parties had boycotted the vote from the start, including the left-wing Tagammu.
The liberals and leftists fear the Islamists will try to beef up references to their religion in the new charter.
"The constitution should not reflect the majority, it should reflect all forces in society," said Tagammu head Rifaat al-Said.
"There is an attempt to posses everything," he said of his party's Islamist opponents. "Possessing the constitution is the most dangerous thing."
According to a military schedule, the panel was meant to finish the new constitution before a presidential election, but that now seems unlikely with the poll scheduled for May.