Last updated: 29 March, 2012

Egypt’s Azhar withdraws from constitution panel

Egyptian political parties reached an agreement on Thursday to boost their representation in a disputed constitutional panel dominated by Islamists, the official MENA news agency reported.

Liberals had withdrawn from the constituent assembly appointed by the Islamist-majority parliament, accusing the fundamentalists of trying to control the process of drafting a new constitution.

At Thursday’s meeting, which had been called for by the ruling military, most of the parties agreed on boosting their representation drawing from a list of reserve candidates to include in the parliament-appointed panel.

The panel, which is evenly divided between parliamentarians and public figures, was elected by parliament which also voted for a number of reserve candidates who could could replace the panelists.

Fourteen parties, including the main Islamist ones, supported the compromise and five opposed, MENA quoted a parliamentarian who attended the meeting as saying.

The lawmaker, Mostafa Bakri, added that the parties agreed the constitution would define the country as “democratic, guided by a constitution and modern, with citizenship and the rule of law as its pillars.”

The constitution is to replace the one suspended by the military when it took power following president Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow last year in a popular uprising.

Members of the panel elected the Islamist speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatni as its head on Wednesday, intensifying a standoff with secularists over the nature of the charter.

Katatni belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, which dominated parliamentary elections after Mubarak’s ouster.

His appointment came after liberal, leftist and independent parties and figures angrily withdrew from the committee, accusing Islamists of monopolising the process.

Only 74 of the 100-member panel attended the first session on Wednesday, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.

The constituent assembly’s legitimacy was further called into question after Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court and the prestigious Islamic Al-Azhar institution also withdrew from the panel.