An Egyptian court on Tuesday suspended a 100-member panel selected by lawmakers from the Islamist-dominated parliament and tasked with drafting the country's new constitution.

The ruling was a blow to the Islamists, who have catapulted into the center of Egypt's political stage since the ouster 14 months ago of longtime authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.

It followed complaints by political groups, secular politicians and constitutional experts over parliament's decision to give lawmakers half the seats on the panel. Islamist lawmakers, combined with like-minded individuals selected from outside parliament, ended up with 60 seats on the panel.

The verdict also referred the case to a panel of senior judges to look into the legality of the panel.
Critics have maintained that the way the panel was picked violated a constitutional declaration adopted in a referendum last year. Some two dozen members -- many of them members of liberal groups that engineered the popular, anti-Mubarak uprising -- have quit the panel, protesting the selection process and alleging that it was not inclusive enough.

The Islamists' insistence that lawmakers get half the panel's seats prompted charges that they wanted to monopolize the process and give the new constitution an Islamist slant.

Ensuring their majority on the panel was one of a series of actions taken by the Islamists in their bid to tighten their control of the country.

Last week, the Muslim Brotherhood, the nation's largest political group, reversed an earlier decision not to field a candidate in presidential elections due on May 23-24. In a surprise move, the group put forward businessman Khairat el-Shater, the Brotherhood's deputy leader, as their choice for the presidency.

The Brotherhood's actions have led many to believe that the group, emerging from some 60 years on the sidelines as an outlawed organization under Mubarak, was more interested in dominating the country than in an inclusive transition that lays the foundation for a democratic and free Egypt.