Egypt's Secular Parties Get Equal Role in Constitution Drafting

The Speaker of Egypt's parliament said lawmakers will once again elect on Tuesday members of the constituent assembly tasked to draft the country's new constitution, days after Islamist and secular-minded parties agreed for even representation in the crucial body formerly dominated by conservative Muslims.

"We have invited the elected members of parliament to a joint meeting at 11 am on Tuesday ... to elect a 100-member assembly to prepare a new constitution for the state," local newspapers quoted Speaker Saad al-Katatny as saying Saturday.

The country's political parties agreed to a 50-50 split between Islamists and secularists in the constituent assembly hours before a 48-hour ultimatum issued by the ruling military council was about to be over Thursday.

Parties agreed that 39 seats will be filled by members of parliament, six by judges, nine by law experts, one each by a member of the armed forces, the police and the justice ministry, 13 by unions, and 21 by public figures, including five by the Al-Azhar University and four by the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Agence France Presse.

The make-up of the constituent assembly is crucial to Egypt's future, as the new constitution its members are going to draft will define the relationship between Islam and the state, the military's role in politics, and the powers of the new president and the parliament.

"All the political parties and powers have agreed that a full balance and representation of all powers and interests will be taken into consideration while forming the assembly," added al-Katatny, former secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and who now heads the parliamentary committee tasked to choose the assembly's members.

"I think this is very important. This is a great step to protect Egypt against writing an Islamic constitution," Christian Science Monitor quoted Mohamed Aboulghar, the leader of the secular-oriented Egyptian Social Democratic Party, as saying.

The constituent assembly was strongly dominated by Islamists, mostly from the Freedom and Justice Party and the radical Salafist Al-Nour Party, as Egyptians voted overwhelmingly for conservative parties in December 2011 elections. One-fourth of the constituent members had withdrawn from or boycotted it.

In response to a suit filed by liberals and secularists, the administrative court of Cairo suspended the assembly on April 10, saying it was "unrepresentative."

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over after President Hosni Mubarak's regime was toppled last year, has said it would hand over power to a newly elected president by July 1, but it is yet to be seen what would be the military's role after the new president is elected.

The final phase of the presidential election is scheduled for the next weekend. Egypt's Christians, about 10 percent of the Sunni Muslim-majority country with 82 million people, fear they will be sidelined if the president is from an Islamist party.