Egypt may see draft of constitution by today

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The assembly writing Egypt’s constitution said it could have a final draft ready for today, a move the Muslim Brotherhood sees as a way out of a crisis over a decree by president Mohamed Morsi that protesters say gives him dictatorial powers.

But as Mr Morsi’s opponents staged a sixth day of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square yesterday, critics said the attempt by the Islamist-dominated assembly to finish the constitution quickly could make matters worse.

The Brotherhood hopes to end the crisis by replacing Mr Morsi’s controversial decree with a new constitution that would need to be approved in a popular referendum, a Brotherhood official said.

It is a gamble based on the Islamists’ belief that they can mobilise enough voters to win the referendum: they have won all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

But the move seemed likely to deepen divisions. The constitution is one of the main reasons Mr Morsi is at loggerheads with non-Islamist opponents, who are boycotting the 100-member constitutional assembly. They accuse the Islamists of seeking to impose their vision for Egypt.

The assembly’s legal legitimacy has been called into question by a series of court cases demanding its dissolution. Its popular legitimacy has been hit by the withdrawal of members, including church representatives and liberals.

Wael Ghonim, a prominent activist whose blogging helped ignite the anti-Mubarak uprising, said a constitution passed in such circumstances would “entrench authoritarianism”.

The constitution is supposed to be the cornerstone of a new, democratic Egypt following Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule. The assembly has been at work for six months.