Islamist will chair panel that's writing Egypt's constitution

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 28, 2012 

CAIRO — Hundreds of protesters marched through Tahrir Square on Wednesday after the speaker of the Parliament's lower house, an Islamist, was named to chair the commission that's charged with drafting Egypt's new constitution.

Mohamed Saad el Katatni, the only candidate for the chairman's post, collected 71 out of 72 votes; the remaining members of the 100-person panel boycotted the vote.

Katatni, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood's ruling Guidance Council, made it clear that a threatened boycott of the panel by non-Islamist members wouldn't deter him.

Katatni's ascent to the chairmanship of the panel that's charged with setting the course of Egyptian government shows how much the fate of the Muslim Brotherhood has changed in the 13 months since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from the presidency. Just two days before the demonstrations that led to Mubarak's fall began, Mubarak's security forces detained Katatni along with 34 high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.

Wednesday, Katatni denied that the constitution-drafting commission faced any crisis, despite the boycott by non-Islamist members.

"The joint meeting of the Parliament's upper and lower houses predicted that some members of the assembly would have personal circumstances that will keep them from participating," Katatni said. "That is why we elected 20 reserve names from Parliament and 20 others from public figures."

Opponents said the message was clear: If you boycott, you will be replaced.

Emad Gad, a Coptic Christian parliamentarian from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, compared Katatni to Ahmed Fathi Soror, the longtime speaker of Parliament during Mubarak's years. "The Brotherhood started where the National Democratic Party ended," he said, referring to Mubarak's political party.

Six member of Gad's party who'd been named to the panel resigned Wednesday.

Women also objected to the lack of female representation on the panel. Of the 100 members, only eight are women, and three of those are members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

"This assembly does not represent me in any way," said Hoda Badran, the head of the Cairo-based nonprofit Alliance for Arab Women.

Mohamed el Kurdi, a member of the constitution panel who belongs to the Nour Party, which draws its support from fundamentalist Salafi Muslims, described the panel's task as "drafting an Islamic constitution."

"This is a 95 percent Muslim country. Millions voted for this Parliament to uphold Shariah" — Islamic law — "and this is what the assembly should accomplish," he said.

A prominent Muslim preacher and chemistry teacher who joined the Salafist Call Movement 35 years ago and oversaw community service campaigns offered by the Nour Party for months before parliamentary elections, Kurdi accused the boycott bloc of dictatorship.

"Those liberals are following the West with its liberalism, and want to impose their ideology and secularism on a Muslim nation," he said. "This is the dictatorship of the minorities," Kurdi said.

Kurdi, a member of Parliament's education committee, is best known in Egypt for denouncing the classroom teaching of English as "a foreign plot meant to paint our children with Western cultures."

(Sabry is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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