REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Initial figures show that Islamists are set to make up a majority on the panel that will draft the country's new constitution, the official state news agency MENA reported late Saturday.
A joint session of both houses of parliament to discuss the constitutional committee ended with the apparent election of 25 members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and 11 from the ultraconservative Salafi party, Al Nour.
The results were based on 60% of the votes counted, and do not represent makeup of the final committee. The speaker of the lower house, the People's Assembly, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has specified that 37 members of the panel would be chosen from the lower house, 13 from the upper house, 25 from state institutions (including government officials and academics) and 25 would be public figures.
The constitution will determine the balance of power among the country's leading institutions and will define the roles of religion and minority rights, so the composition of the panel that will create the document has sparked fierce debate in Egypt.
A leading Islamist deputy said that the country's most prominent democracy advocate, Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei, would probably not be included, according to the Associated Press. MENA also posted a list of names of those it said were gaining support among lawmakers.
The AP reported that the list included more than 50 Islamists, as well as six women and six Christians in addition to about 30 other non-Islamists, including professionals, judges, political scientists, poets and others. Some of the names were not widely known to the public, and their ideological affiliation was not immediately clear.
Saturday's vote was carried out amid protests from liberal and secular activists and politicians arguing against an "Islamist-overwhelmed parliament's monopoly" writing a constitution "that should represent all sects of the Egyptian society."
Hundreds of demonstrators, meanwhile, marched toward the hall where the vote was held, chanting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Nour and the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces.
"Down, down with military rule," and, "The constitution is a constitution for youth, not a constitution for the Brotherhood or political parties," protesters shouted.
After the toppling of Hosni Mubarak's government in February 2011, the military council a month later decreed that parliament convene to form a 100-member panel to write a new constitution.
However, after elections that saw Islamists handily win majorities, it appeared that the panel would be stacked when lawmakers then decided that 50 committee members would come from within parliament and 50 would be chosen from outside the political body.
Mohamed Fayoumi, who was taking part in Saturday's marches, said he believed that the panel's members should have all been elected from outside parliament.
"We need neutral legal experts and union leaders among other technocrats who should be writing the constitution, not MPs [members of parliament] who will be writing it only according to Islamists' perspective," he said.
A number of lawsuits have already been filed challenging parliament's right to determine who should be part of the constitutional committee.
The committee is scheduled to finish the new constitution within six months of the panel's formation. Their final document will be subject to a national referendum.
Photo: The People's Assembly, Egypt's lower house of parliament. Credit: Gallo / Getty Images