Egyptian court to rule on constitutional assembly on October 23

CAIRO Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:11pm BST

CAIRO (Reuters) - A court will rule on October 23 on whether the assembly drafting Egypt's new constitution is legal, a judge said on Tuesday.

The case was brought by a group of liberal activists who say the 100-strong assembly is dominated by Islamists and is unfit to issue a constitution for all Egyptians.

The constitution is central to Egypt's transition from military-backed autocracy to democracy following the overthrow of veteran president Hosni Mubarak last year. But the drafting process has been dogged by fighting between Islamists and secular, liberal Egyptians.

The Cairo administrative court "decided to hold the case to be ruled on October 23," Judge Farid Nazeh Tanagho said.

A court ruling last April dissolved a former constitutional committee that was also led by Islamists.

If the assembly is dissolved again, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi will pick a new one, according to a decree he issued shortly after he took power from the army generals who ran Egypt after Mubarak was ousted.

The draft constitution was released for public discussion last week and international rights groups and liberals have voiced concerns about the role of Islam and the rights of women and children.

The head of Egypt's highest court, Maher El-Beheiri, criticised the draft on Tuesday saying it gave the president too much power and risked undermining its independence.

He told state news agency MENA that draft articles on the judiciary represented "a flagrant violation of the Supreme Constitutional Court's (SCC) authority ... and permits interference by the authorities in the court's affairs.

"The articles give the president the power to appoint the chairman and members of the court in an unprecedented move that undermines the court's independence and gives the executive authority the upper hand over judicial authority," he said.

During Mubarak's rule, the president appointed the head of the SCC and members of its general assembly. Beheiri and other judges want this changed.

The constitution, once finalised, will be put to a popular referendum, after which Egyptians will elect a new parliament.

(Reporting by Marwa Awad and Ali Abdelaty, Writing by Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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