Egypt Panel Convenes to Vote on Constitution

Posted November 29th, 2012 at 9:50 am (UTC-5)
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A controversial Islamist-dominated panel writing Egypt's new constitution has convened to begin voting on the document's final draft, a move likely to stoke a widening political crisis over decrees giving President Mohamed Morsi near absolute powers.

Egyptian television said it would broadcast Thursday's vote live in the assembly – a body that has been boycotted by liberals and Christians for weeks.

The vote comes amid accusations the panel is railroading the charter and as protests mount over an escalating struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood-backed president and the courts over control of the political transition.

Fast-tracking the process appears aimed at pre-empting a possible ruling on Sunday by Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court to dissolve the constitutional assembly. The court will also rule on the legitimacy of parliament's upper chamber, also dominated by Islamists. The lower chamber, the lawmaking People's Assembly, was dissolved by the same court in June.

Mr. Morsi plans to address the nation later Thursday in an attempt to ease the crisis, which has set off a week of street protests that have continued unabated. Two people have been killed and hundreds injured in nationwide demonstrations ignited by the president's decree, issued last week, barring the judiciary from challenging his decisions.

Egyptians continued protests in Tahrir Square against Mr. Morsi for a seventh straight day Thursday, accusing him of assuming dictatorial powers. Clashes between stone-throwing protesters and police launching tear gas canisters also continued overnight.

The Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of the president have vowed to demonstrate on Saturday.

Mr. Morsi extended the deadline to write the constitution from December to February, but the assembly's speaker said the extra time was unnecessary.

Egypt's highest courts went on strike Wednesday in protest of the president's decrees, vowing to stop their work until the constitutional court rules on Mr. Morsi's order granting himself immunity from judicial review.

The constitutional court has accused Mr. Morsi of an unjustified attack on its independence. In a statement released Wednesday, the court rejected charges made by Mr. Morsi that it is working to bring down his government.

The president said his decree was designed to protect state institutions.

Mr. Morsi later promised the Supreme Judicial Council that he will restrict his newly self-granted powers to “sovereign matters.” But the vaguely worded statement did not define the issues over which he would have absolute power.