Egypt’s Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution has voted to keep “the principles of sharia” law as the main source of legislation. They have also voted to limit the president's term of office to two four-year terms.
The article's language however, remains unchanged from the previous constitution used under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The assembly gathered on Thursday to vote on each of the new draft constitution’s 234 articles in a potential bid by the Muslim Brotherhood to contain popular anger directed at Islamist President Muhamed Morsi.
The rushed vote was unexpected, coming just a week after Morsi extended the deadline for drafting the national charter by two months. The constitution was previously scheduled to be completed by December 5.
Once voting on the draft constitution is completed, the document will then be sent to Morsi, who will then be able to call a referendum to ratify it within two weeks.
In a move likely to be met with a favor in a country which became accustomed to unlimited tenure during the 30-year reign of Mubarak, the assembly also voted to limit the president's term of office to two four-year terms.
Morsi is expected to call for national unity in a public address scheduled for 1700 GMT on Thursday to ease the ongoing crisis that has resulted in a week of often violent street clashes and mass protests.
Egypt’s Constitutional Court was set to rule on the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly on Sunday. Thursday’s apparent fast-tracking of the process has promoted speculation the panel is pushing through the draft constitution in case the court moves to dissolve the panel.
The country's first 100-member Constituent Assembly was dissolved by the Supreme Administrative Court in April. The court said MPs who were responsible for electing members of the body were not supposed to be serving on it, putting the panel in contravention to the March 2011 Constitutional Decree.
The current Constituent Assembly – elected in June – also contains members of parliament , making its legal status equally dubious.
Thursday's vote follows massive protests which saw more than 200,000 protester’s flood onto Cairo’s Tahrir Square in opposition to recent presidential decrees giving Morsi sweeping powers.
The Constitutional Court's vote has put the judiciary on a collision course with Morsi, who ruled that no authority may dissolve the assembly until the country's defining document is completed. He further ruled that no authority may dissolve the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt's parliament.
Morsi defended the decrees, saying they were only temporary measures which would be repealed once the new constitution is ratified and a new parliament is elected.
Mohamed Abdel-Alim Dawoud of the liberal Wafd party told Egypt’s Ahram Daily that attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to extricate Morsi from the current political crisis by passing the final draft constitution will likely backfire.
“The decision to rush out the vote will only serve to pour oil on the fire and direct more anger at Morsi and his group [the Brotherhood]. It will exacerbate the impression that the assembly is under the Brotherhood's tight control and that the constitution is tailored to serve their political ends,” Dawoud, who had previously withdrawn from the assembly, said.
At least 40 liberal, leftist and Christian members have withdrawn from 100-member Islamist-dominated assembly.
In another move likely to further inflame tensions on the streets, the assembly also voted on an article giving the Islamist-dominated Shura Council – Egypt’s upper house of parliament – the power to issue legislation until the lower house is elected.
With both the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly being placed above judicial review, the country’s opposition fears Egypt is falling victim to an Islamist coup.