Liberal Egyptian politicians quit Islamist-led constitution body

Two liberal Egyptian politicians on Monday pulled out of a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution after Islamists took a majority of its seats. The liberals complained that the body is not representative of the whole public.

The panel selected over the weekend includes nearly 60 Islamists and only six women and six Christians. The members were chosen by parliament's two chambers, where Islamists have a majority.

The two who quit the constituent assembly are independent lawmaker Amr Hamzawy and Christian activist Mona Makram Obeid.

They announced on their Twitter accounts that they were leaving the panel.

"I polled those who elected me and the majority of them said they preferred for me to stay on the constituent assembly," Hamzawy wrote. "I gave the matter a great deal of thought and studied the makeup of the assembly. My conscience told me to pull out."

Obeid, a former lawmaker and a prominent women's rights activist, said, "the religious nature and the absence of women are behind my withdrawal from the constituent assembly."

Several other liberals were said to be considering dropping out of the panel.

The new constitution will decide whether Egypt will undergo further Islamization, abandoning decades of secular traditions that accorded minority Christians and women roles in the government and economy, while allowing the spread of conservative Islam as well.

The charter also will determine whether the decades-old system of a powerful president will be maintained, or instead, an empowered parliament under Islamist domination will set the tone.

Young revolutionaries who led the 18-day popular uprising that led to Mubarak's downfall a year ago were mostly secular, liberal activists. However, they failed to translate their uprising success into votes and are a tiny minority in the new parliament. Activists have continued their demonstrations, complaining that the military rulers are carrying on Mubarak's repressive practices and expressing concern that the new Islamist-dominated parliament will lead the nation down the road of strict Islam at their expense.

The Brotherhood is also in a spat with the military. The Islamists charge that the Cabinet the generals appointed is a failure, and a new one, led by the Brotherhood, should replace it.

"The (ruling) military council bears full responsibility for attempts to hinder the process of democratic transition and ... exporting crises to future governments," said a statement by the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood's political wing.

The party also charged that the military might try to rig the presidential election to install a favorable candidate. The Brotherhood is considering running its own candidate for president, reversing an earlier decision not to do so, it said.

The military council, which took power after Mubarak's overthrow, hit back with a statement calling it unacceptable to question its commitment to turning over power to a civilian government and to a fair presidential election.

The military, in a statement that did not mention the Brotherhood by name, also made a thinly veiled threat of a crackdown against the group, alluding to the mid-1950s, when it was outlawed and hundreds of its members were detained after the Brotherhood challenged the rule of the military.

"We ask everyone to learn from the lessons of history so we avoid the mistakes of a past we don't wish to return to," the military statement said.

The election is set for May 23-24 with a runoff, if necessary, in June. The winner would be announced June 21. The military has pledged to hand over power by the end of June.