A controversial panel boycotted by liberals and Christians was set to rush out a draft of new Egyptian constitution on Wednesday as protests mounted over the political future nearly two years after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow.
Islamist President Mohamed Morsi had just last week given the constituent assembly an additional two months until February to complete its work.
But as protests mounted over his decision to grant himself sweeping powers until the text is ratified in a referendum, the panel wrapped up its deliberations and readied for a vote on the text to be put to voters, panel chief Ahmed Darrag said.
“The discussions over the draft of the constitution will be finished today, to be followed by voting,” Darrag said in remarks carried by the official MENA news agency.
MENA reported that the panel would vote on the draft on Thursday morning. It will subsequently be put to a referendum.
The head of the Islamist-dominated panel, Hossam al-Gheriani, urged the liberal, leftist and Coptic members who walked out to “come back and finish the discussion on Thursday.”
“Tomorrow will be a great day,” Gheriani said.
The surprise move came in the face of deep rifts over the constituent assembly which critics have slammed for failing to represent all Egyptians.
Anger over the document was exacerbated following a decree by Morsi granting himself sweeping powers and barring the courts from dissolving the panel.
The Supreme Constitutional Court had been due to review the legality of the drafting committee on Sunday, but its fate hangs in the balance amid the constitutional vacuum created by Morsi’s decree.
Human rights groups have criticised the move to rush through the constitution.
“This is not a healthy moment to be pushing through a constitution because this is an extremely divisive moment,” Human Rights Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef said.
“Human rights groups have very serious concerns about some of the rights protections in the latest drafts we’ve seen,” she said.
Egypt’s highest court of appeal has gone on strike over Morsi’s decree putting his decisions beyond judicial scrutiny and protesters have flocked back to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, epicentre of the protest movement that toppled Mubarak in February 2011.
Clashes between police and protesters raged on Wednesday with the two sides exchanging volleys of tear gas canisters and stones.
The outskirts of the square have seen sporadic skirmishes for nine days since a protest was begun to mark the one-year anniversary of deadly confrontations with police in the same area.
Clashes also raged through Tuesday night between supporters and opponents of Morsi in the Nile Delta city of Mahalla and the canal city of Port Said.
In Mahalla, 132 people were injured while 27 were hurt in Port Said, medical sources said. According to a security official, calm in both towns had been restored by early on Wednesday.
Morsi’s decree helped consolidate the long-divided opposition, with former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa uniting with former presidential candidates in the face of Morsi and the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, on whose ticket the president ran for office.
The Brotherhood and the secular-leaning opposition had stood side by side in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 as they fought to bring down veteran strongman Mubarak and his regime.
But since the strongman’s ouster, the Islamist movement has been accused of monopolising politics after dominating parliament — following vows not to field candidates for a majority of the seats — and backtracking on a promise not to nominate a presidential candidate.
The movement went on to dominate a committee tasked with drafting the new constitution, prompting a string of walkouts.
Morsi’s decree is temporary, valid only until a new constitution is in place, and his Freedom and Justice Party says the measures are aimed at speeding up a seemingly endless transition.
US officials said Washington was closely following the drama unfolding in Egypt, with a warning that Cairo could put vast amounts of international aid at stake if it veers off the democratic course.
But the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday said Egypt can still get its $4.8 billion loan, agreed last week, despite the turmoil as long as there is “no major change” in its reform commitments.