Hopes of defusing the escalating political crisis in Egypt are fading after a Muslim Brotherhood-backed constitution was put to a vote two months earlier than planned, and just hours before the group’s opponents geared up for another huge show of force in Tahrir Square.
With the political opposition still smarting over President Mohamed Morsi’s power grab last week, the Brotherhood poured fuel on the fire by joining its allies in fast-tracking the new constitution through the country’s Islamist-dominated assembly.
The move came as a surprise, being announced just days after the president granted the assembly another eight weeks to polish off the final document. It left many of the country’s secular and liberal politicians pondering their next move.
The new constitution, while identical in many respects to its 1971 predecessor, includes a number of clauses which have incensed opponents of the Islamists. Article 4 grants new powers of legislative scrutiny to Al Azhar, the ancient seat of Sunni learning – a development which some secularists say could pave the way for an Islamic state-by-stealth. Meanwhile article 10 refers to the “duties” of women towards their families, while making no such strictures for men.
Former presidential candidate Amr Moussa slammed the decision to rush through the constitution, which is due to be voted on in a public referendum in December.
However Zaid al-Ali, a constitutional expert who has studied the draft, said much of the political opposition was not necessarily down to the document itself. “There is a significant lack of trust between the parties. It is a lack of trust as opposed to their positions on the constitution which is causing problems,” he added.
The Brotherhood’s opponents have said that Egypt’s constituent assembly, which has been hit with numerous walkouts by its liberal and Christian members, wanted to finish the job before a judicial challenge against its legality due next week.
The country’s judges were angered by Mr Morsi’s decree last week usurping their powers. Yet the Brotherhood believes the judiciary needs to be purged of Mubarak-era influences.
In a bid to turn the screw on Mr Morsi, opposition groups have called for a massive demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday.