Interim charter row reflects rocky road ahead for Egypt

Egypt's interim charter hit a wave of opposition shortly after it was announced late on Monday, from liberals as well as supporters of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi, illustrating the treacherous political landscape following his ouster.

The blueprint unveiled by army-appointed caretaker President Adly Mansour has been welcomed by some as a decisive step towards restoring civilian rule in Egypt, amid heightened tensions between the army and Islamists in an increasingly bloody transition.

The charter outlines the president's powers, while laying out a timetable to revise the suspended constitution and hold fresh parliamentary and presidential elections, possibly by early next year.

But secular parties were swift to criticise the new charter, notably for upholding a stricter definition of Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation, in what was widely seen as a concession to the Salafist al-Nur party.

The provision narrowing Islamic law to the principles of Sunni thought first appeared in the controversial constitution that Morsi forced through last year and which was suspended following last week's coup.

The liberal Free Egyptians Party called Monday's constitutional decree "highly disappointing."

Party spokesman Shaheeb Wageeh said the Sharia clause was included to "appease a political party that has been trying to impose its vision on society," referring to Al-Nur.

Others raised concerns about the election timetable, seen as particularly ambitious given the ongoing protests and security problems, and the unchecked privileges of the military, who intervened last week to depose Egypt's first democratically elected leader.

Gamal Eid, an Egyptian lawyer who works for a human rights NGO, said the text gave the army too much discretion over prosecuting soldiers and civilians in military tribunals, a concern echoed by Heba Morayef from Human Rights Watch.

"This decree has broadened out the military justice system... At present the military has absolute jurisdiction when it comes to trying its own people," she told AFP.

Army accountability has been thrown sharply into focus since Monday morning when at least 51 people, mostly Morsi loyalists, were killed outside the Cairo military headquarters, stoking the Islamists' anger toward the army.

The Muslim Brotherhood claimed police and troops "massacred" their supporters as they performed dawn prayers, while the army said it came under attack by "terrorists."

After the incident, the Brotherhood rejected the interim charter outright, with senior official Essam al-Erian saying "a constitutional decree by a man appointed by putschists... brings the country back to square one."

Separately, the grassroots Tamarod campaign which organised the mass protests that led to Morsi's overthrow complained it had not been consulted on the transition plan.

Tamarod spokesman Mahmud Badr said his movement would make proposals for changes to the blueprint, which it would present to Mansour later on Tuesday.

Some observers remained optimistic, however, that the charter marked a key step in Egypt's democratic transition.

Political analyst Emad Gad said the new decree would help restore stability by boosting what he called the "new cooperation" between anti-Islamist protesters and the military.

"The civic power demonstrators of the June 30 revolution are trying to support the interim president. So when they see the transitional period progressing, I believe they will decide to leave the streets and support the country's new institutions."