By HAMZA HENDAWI
A 50-member panel tasked with amending Egypt’s Islamist-drafted constitution will complete its work by early November, a spokesman for the body said Sunday, wrapping up the first step of a military-backed roadmap in place since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi.
Despite interim authorities pushing ahead with the transition, opposition to Morsi’s ouster has continued however, with hundreds protesting the July 3 coup at schools and universities on Sunday.
Authorities ramped up security force deployments at campuses around the country in anticipation of the protests. Classes were temporarily disrupted in at least one school in a village on the outskirts of Cairo, and police detained about two dozen students, according to a member of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group.
Brotherhood leader and former lawmaker Essam el-Erian called on students to keep up their protests in a new video aired Sunday on Al-Jazeera’s satellite channel dedicated to Egyptian affairs.
El-Erian, like many Brotherhood members, is on the run from police and wanted on charges of inciting violence and murder.
The new school year, which began Saturday, has given Morsi supporters new platforms to re-energize their movement. Protests have waned in recent weeks after a fierce security crackdown against the Brotherhood and Morsi’s supporters killed hundreds and led to thousands of arrests.
Constituent assembly spokesman Mohammed Salmawy said the constitutional panel, already at work for the past two weeks, has approved about a third of the charter, mostly non-controversial clauses on basic freedoms.
The liberal-dominated panel has yet to decide on proposals, such as one that the charter should be adopted by a minimum of 75 percent of the vote when it is put to a nationwide referendum, rather than a simple majority as has been the custom in past referendums, he said.
The Brotherhood has refused to join the panel.
The new charter will replace one written by a panel packed with Morsi’s Islamist supporters that was approved in a hurried nationwide referendum in December. The drafting of that constitution was one of the most divisive issues of Morsi’s one-year rule, sending hundreds of thousands to the streets in protest.
It was widely seen as placing restrictions on freedoms of expression and giving clerics a say over legislation. The document was approved by about 64 percent of the vote, but turnout was only some 30 percent.
In a break with previous constitutions, Salmawy said members were leaning in favor of permanently removing the upper chamber of parliament known as the Shura Council.
The Shura Council has long been chided as a toothless talking shop, but Morsi elevated it to a legislative body when the nation’s highest court dissolved the lower and more important chamber shortly before he took office on June 30 last year. The Islamist-majority Shura Council was dissolved shortly after Morsi’s ouster.
The constitutional panel was appointed by interim President Adly Mansour, who succeeded Morsi. The military ousted Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, after days of street protests by millions demanding he resign.
Parliamentary and presidential elections are to follow the adoption of the amended charter, expected by February, capping the road map announced by military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, also the defense minister who led the coup.
Morsi’s supporters plan to campaign against the amended constitution as part of their efforts to undermine the military-backed government, but Amr Moussa, the chairman of the 50-member panel, told reporters that backers of the new constitution intended to do some lobbying of their own.
Meanwhile, Brotherhood students at Cairo university burned a picture of el-Sissi, as authorities postponed classes in at least four other universities due to security concerns.
In one school in the village of Abu Nomrous outside the capital, clashes with residents broke out and police intervened after pro-Morsi protesters tried to prevent others from attending classes, Egypt’s state news agency said.
An amateur video posted on the Facebook page of the Brotherhood’s political party showed police inside the school as tear gas fell in the court yard and shots were fired amid screams.
Islam Tawfik, a member of the group’s political party, said at least 23 students have been detained across Egypt during school protests, including an 11th grader who raised a yellow sign that has come to symbolize the pro-Morsi movement during assembly hour.
Tawfik said the student’s father had died during a violent police breakup of pro-Morsi protests in Cairo last month that left hundreds dead.
Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report