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July 21, 2013

Egyptian Panel Starts Work to Amend Controversial Charter

by VOA News

A panel of experts charged with rewriting controversial portions of Egypt's Islamist-drafted constitution met for the first time Sunday, following the ouster of the previous Islamist president who ratified the charter.

The 10 judges and law professors will have one month to propose constitutional amendments as part of a timetable for returning Egypt to democratic rule.

Many secular and liberal Egyptians opposed the previous constitution, which was hastily approved by a drafting committee dominated by Islamists, because they said the charter left out basic clauses to protect civil rights and social justice.

Opponents of the constitution led nationwide mass protests against former president Mohamed Morsi earlier this month, prompting Egypt's military to oust him and install high court chief justice Adly Mansour as the country's interim leader.

But Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement has rejected the military's suspension of the constitution and refused to deal with the interim government until he is reinstated. Thousands of Morsi supporters continue to protest against his removal in Cairo's Nasr City area.

Interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has urged the Islamists to join the political process. In an interview broadcast on state television Saturday, he said Egypt needs a political consensus to overcome serious economic difficulties.

Mansour's timetable for reinstating democracy calls for the 10 legal experts he appointed to submit their constitutional amendments to a 50-member committee of politicians, trade unionists and religious figures. The larger committee will have two months to make further changes before handing the draft constitution to the president, who will have 30 days to call a referendum on the document.

Egypt's interim government has said it intends to hold new parliamentary and presidential elections under a revised constitution early next year.

Morsi had served only one year of his term as Egypt's first democratically-elected president following the removal of his longtime predecessor Hosni Mubarak in a 2011 popular revolution supported by the military.