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Egypt's New Lawmakers Spar over Constitutional Panel
March 4, 2012

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In the first joint meeting of both houses of the newly elected Parliament, Egyptian lawmakers had strong disagreements about the future of the country.

The meeting of the 678 lawmakers focused on its first big decision: who will make up the 100-member panel responsible for writing the country's new constitution. Right away, members of Islamic parties were insisting that the panel be made up of lawmakers according to proportional representation in Parliament, while liberals were insisting that the panel also include experts from outside the ranks of Parliament.

Another key point of disagreement at the meeting was the amount to which Shariah, or Islamic law, would play in the written political laws of the country. The Salafis, who have a strong representation in Parliament, want the new constitution to be based solely on Shariah. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has nearly half of all lawmakers, is seeking a more moderate approach.

Among the goals of the new constitution, according to lawmakers, are a greater role for Parliament and a reduced role for both the President and the military, the two institutions that have had the most power in the past century. 

Putting more power in the hands of the legislature would be a big shift for a country that has so recently undergone a revolution that saw the ouster of the President and the return of military rule. The ruling generals are still unpopular with many of the leaders of the opposition; and street protests have been not as frequent as they were in 2011, in the days leading up to the flight of former President Hosni Mubarak, but noticeable all the same, mainly because the military has made some large concessions to opposition leaders but, at the same time, maintained many policies that were popular under Mubarak.

Parliament will announced guidelines for selecting the constitution-writing panel on March 17, with the naming of the panel members to follow a week later. Once the panel begins, it will have six months to deliver a new constitution. In the meantime, Egypt's presidential election will take place, to meet the ruling military council's announced timeline of handover to a new elected government by the end of June.



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