Egypt's newly empowered Islamists have tightened their grip on power in the country, giving themselves a majority on a 100-member panel tasked with drafting a constitution, The Associated Press reported on Sunday.
The new constitution will define the shape of the government in the post-Hosni Mubarak era, and will essentially decide whether Islam will gain even more strength in Egypt, abandoning decades of secular traditions.
The charter also will determine whether the decades-old system of a powerful president will be maintained, or whether an empowered parliament under Islamist domination will set the tone instead, AP reported.
A list of names published on Sunday by the country's official news agency showed that the constitution panel will have nearly 60 Islamists, including 37 legislators selected the day before by parliament's two chambers. The second half of the panel comprises public figures, also selected by members of parliament.
The strong Islamist showing follows their victory in parliamentary elections and reinforces fears by secular and liberal Egyptians that the dominant parliamentary faction would pack the panel with supporters and ignore concerns of other groups, including the youth activists who spearheaded last year's uprising against Mubarak's authoritarian regime.
Just a handful of Christians and women were selected for the panel, AP noted, reflecting the disproportionately low representation in parliament of both groups. There also were only a few names from the revolutionary movement that ousted Mubarak.
Several liberal and leftist MPs withdrew from the panel on Saturday, protesting that the nation's diversity would not be properly represented.
The report noted that with the parliament and the constitutional assembly firmly in hand, Islamists are turning their attention to presidential elections, which are to be held on May 23-24, with a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes in early June if nobody wins an outright majority. The winner is expected to be announced June 21.
While neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the Salafis have publicly backed a candidate, both groups say they will only support one with an Islamist background.
The Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday accused the generals who took power following Mubarak's ouster of trying to "hinder" the transition to democratic rule and added that it is studying proposals to field its own candidate for president, reversing an earlier decision not to do so.
“The (ruling) military council bears full responsibility for attempts to hinder the process of democratic transition and ... exporting crises to future governments,” the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party said in a statement, suggesting that the military and the Cabinet were manufacturing the problems to discredit a future government likely to be led by the Brotherhood.
The generals responded quickly with their own statement in which they called attempts to cast doubt on the integrity of the forthcoming presidential elections "baseless" and pointed out they were the ones who planned and carried out recent parliamentary elections.
AP noted that while the Brotherhood until now has been vague about what it wants the constitution to include, the ultraconservative Salafis have called for the constitution to reflect hard-line interpretations of Islamic Sharia law.
Arab media reported last week that former Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman has decided to run for president. Suleiman served as director of General Intelligence Services during the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.