Egypt’s constitutional panel convenes

Egypt's 50-member constitutional panel convened in Cairo for the first time on 8 September to study proposed revisions to disputed articles in the nation's Islamist-backed 2012 constitution.

Its first session saw the election of former presidential candidate and ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa as president of the panel which has two months to finalise constitutional amendments ahead of the nation's presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014.

The panel, whose 50 members were selected by Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour, was established in the wake of the army's ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi on 3 July. Most of the panel's members are liberal public figures or hail from secularist parties, and their task is to revise the constitution before it is presented to voters for a referendum, as part of plans aimed at returning Egypt to democratic rule.

This is the third time that the Egyptian constitution has been amended since the 2011 uprising that ended the nearly three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak. Following the overthrow of Mubarak a military-appointed panel adopted a new constitution which was changed again in 2012 by Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party.

However this time the Muslim Brotherhood is not represented on the panel and continues to face a mass crackdown by the military which has detained many of its leaders. The ultraconservative Islamist Salafi party al-Nour, which supported Morsi's overthrow, remains undecided whether to participate in the panel, over concerns that articles that could give Islamic Shariah law a greater role would be blocked by the panel's secularist majority.

The panel includes three representatives of Al-Azhar, the Sunni world's most prestigious learning institute, as well as representatives from professional unions, universities and the arts and three Christian clerics, but only five women.