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Egypt Suspends Constitutional Panel, Cites Tilt Toward Shariah Law

An Egyptian court suspended on Tuesday the 100-person panel elected to draft Egypt's new constitution, a move seen as a blow to Islamists who critics argue were using their majority count on the panel to influence a constitution based on Shariah law.

In March, parliamentarians decided to attribute 50 of the 100-person panel's seats to members of their own ranks, the majority of whom were of the Muslim Brotherhood political party and the Salafi fundamentalist party. This, coupled with 10 Islamic panel members outside of parliament, made the panel a 60 percent Islamic majority.

Critics of the panel argue that the parliament's decision to allow lawmakers to occupy 50 of the seats proves that they were attempting to put a slanted, Islamic influence on the constitution.

The Egyptian court prompted the suspension this week after receiving complaints from constitutional experts, political groups, and secular politicians concerning the unfair weight of the panel, as reported by The Associated Press.

Critics argue that Egypt's parliament, which is largely dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, was attempting to monopolize the panel with Islamic influence, therefore incorporating Shariah law, based on the teachings of the Quran, into the drafting of Egypt's new constitution.

According to Al Jazeera, two dozen individuals, mostly comprised of liberal groups who aided in the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, have dropped out of the panel in defiance, arguing that it is not inclusive to all of Egypt's religious and political groups.

In early April, Egypt's official MENA news station reported that the country's Coptic Orthodox Church would be boycotting the panel as well.

The Coptic Church decided to remove two of its officials who sat on the panel and issued a statement, according to an Alakhbar English report, saying it "considers it inappropriate to continue to be represented given the reservations of various political forces on how the constitutional commission was composed."

The court ruled that the panel violated a referendum of the country's temporary constitution, created last year after the fall of President Mubarak.

Tensions have increased in the unstable country since the Arab Spring uprisings of Feb. and March 2011. Many underground Muslim groups that remained subdued during Mubarak's rule have gained power and influence since his presidency crumbled in late Jan. 2011.

Religious minorities have feared further marginalization as the country becomes progressively more Muslim-ruled. Worries heightened when the Muslim Brotherhood won the majority of parliament seats in February, although the political party promised to represent all members of Egyptian society.

Since the Arab Spring uprisings, Egypt has seen a mass exodus of Christians, with nearly 100,000 emigrating from the country since March 2011, according to reports.

The case has now been sent for judicial review, in which a panel of senior judges will assess the legality of the panel selected to draft the country's new constitution.

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