CAIRO— An Egyptian panel has begun voting on a draft constitution, a move considered the first step toward democratic rule following the July ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.
Voting began Saturday on the 247 articles in the new document, which would replace the constitution enacted by Morsi last year.
According to reports by Agence France Presse, the committee approved more than half of the articles on Saturday. The 50-member panel resumes voting Sunday, and plans to present the draft constitution to interim President Adly Mansour by mid-week.
The measure is expected to be put to a popular vote early next year.
Panel chairman Amr Moussa told journalists there was tentative agreement on all 247 articles, which include a provision stipulating sharia [Islamic law] as the main source of legislation.
A separate article says the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces must agree on the government's designee for defense minister.
Cairo-based editor and publisher Hisham Kassem, a prominent democracy activist, said that he plans to support the new draft constitution despite reservations over “20 to 30 percent of the document,” because its approval, he said, will put Egypt back on the right track to becoming a democratic nation:
"It's not ... the best of constitutions, but it's going to mean that we move to the next stage of parliamentary [and presidential] elections, which means that, contrary to a lot of what has been said and written, Egypt is moving in the direction to become a democracy one day soon," Kassem said. "So my vote then is yes, because that is what takes us forward."
Panel member Magdi Yaqoub says the draft constitution is one of the best in the world.
"It is designed to look after every member of the community, particularly the poor, the weak, as well as the neglected people, and gives rights to every person in the country," he said.
Committee member Mohamed Aboulgar says the measure has a number of benefits.
"The articles in this constitution are great. They are very progressive, they will support social justice and freedom," he said.
Egyptian security forces fired tear gas at clusters of protesters outside a courthouse in central Cairo on Saturday, where a student leader was being interrogated by prosecutors. The crowd of mostly secular activists was protesting a controversial new law that imposes stiff fines and prison terms for unauthorized gatherings.
The new law has met resistance from both Islamists and secular activists, several dozen of whom were arrested Tuesday after taking part in an unauthorized protest.
Egypt's army deposed democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi last July and suspended a constitution that was adopted with 63.8 percent of the vote in a nation-wide referendum held over two days last year. Only 33 percent of Egyptians participated in that constitutional referendum.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.