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Egypt forms panel to review constitution changes

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 1 2013 12:47 p.m. MDT

A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi chants slogans against Egyptian Army during a march following Friday Muslim prayers at Nasser City in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. Tens of thousands of protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters rallied Friday throughout Egypt against a military coup and a bloody security crackdown, though tanks and armored police vehicles barred them from converging in major squares.

Manu Brabo, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CAIRO — Egypt's interim president appointed a 50-member committee Sunday dominated by secularists to review proposed amendments to the country's Islamist-drafted constitution, moving ahead with a military-backed transition plan as protests over the coup that ousted the country's president wane.

The committee is to begin discussions Sept. 8 on the changes proposed by a 10-member panel of judges, also appointed by interim President Adly Mansour. It is then expected to put the amended charter to a public vote within 60 days, presidential spokesman Ihab Badawi said.

That follows a military-backed transition plan that calls for parliamentary and presidential elections early next year in the wake of the July 3 popularly backed coup that toppled President Mohammed Morsi.

The new review committee is dominated by liberal and secular public figures and politicians. Five women sit on the committee. There are four representatives from the youth groups that led the protests against Morsi and his predecessor, longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. There are also only three church representatives on the committee and no private citizens who are Christians.

There are three representatives of Al-Azhar, the Sunni world's most prestigious learning institute that represents moderate Islam. There are also representatives from professional unions, universities and the arts.

Badawi said Morsi' group, the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, and five other Islamist parties were tapped to nominate candidates. Only one, Bassam el-Zarka of the leading ultraconservative al-Nour party, came forward.

The Salafi al-Nour party said the selection criteria for the judges and their discussion to amend articles was less transparent than the actions of committee under Morsi, which were carried live on television. Al-Nour said it would argue in the committee to restore articles that stress the Islamic nature of the state, and outlaw insulting religious figures and violating social mores, which would be removed in an amendment proposed by the judges.

Badawi said a former member of the Brotherhood, Kamal el-Helbawi, also has agreed to sit on the committee and "will take into consideration the interests" of the group.

It is not yet clear how the committee will vote on the amendments, an issue which could complicate and prolong discussions. The amendments suggested by the judges removed controversial articles from the constitution, which were hotly contested by Morsi's opposition. Some articles gave Muslim clerics a final say over legislation, and one gave room for stricter interpretation and implementation of Islamic laws.

The Islamist-drafted constitution was one of the most divisive issues during Morsi's one year in office. It was suspended after the military ousted Morsi on July 3 following massive protests demanding he step down.

Lawmakers elected the Islamist-dominated 100-member committee that drafted the constitution under Morsi. It included 60 people affiliated with Islamist groups, six women and six Christians. That selection raised criticism of poor representation from youth groups and the secular opposition.

Liberals twice walked out of committees drafting the constitution, complaining that the Brotherhood and its allies dominated the process and stifled their suggestions. They said the charter undermined freedoms and rights and sought to imbue a strict interpretation of Islam into Egypt's laws.

Protests over the constitution and the direction of the country turned deadly after Morsi issued temporary decrees in late November that put himself and the drafting committee above judicial oversight. The constitution was then finalized in a rushed overnight session and passed with a slight majority in a hastily called referendum in December 2012.

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