Protest against the military in front of Cair
Protest against the military in front of CairReuters

Egypt’s new draft constitution was approved Sunday for a referendum billed as the first stage in a “democratic transition” promised by military-installed authorities after Islamist president Mohammed Morsi’s July ouster.

“Now we have approved the draft,” Amr Mussa, the head of the 50-member constitution-drafting panel, announced on live television, according to the AFP news agency.

The revised charter preserves the military’s wide-ranging powers, including the ability to try civilians in certain cases. This has angered secular groups that backed the military in ousting  Morsi.

The constitution will be put to a popular referendum early next year in the first step in a “democratic transition” promised by authorities.

This is set to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections in mid-2014.

On Saturday’s first day of voting the 50-member panel approved 138 of the 247 articles of the draft charter.

Those articles included one stipulating that Islamic sharia law will be the main source of legislation, as was also the case during the regime of toppled ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The other main article approved was one forbidding the formation of religious parties or parties based on religious grounds.

Article 204, according to AFP, says that “no civilian can be tried by military judges, except for crimes of direct attacks on armed forces, military installations and military personnel.”

Secular artists have demonstrated against the provision, saying it could be applied to protesters, journalists and dissidents. Activists and rights groups say that the draft charter also fails to curb the powers and privileges of the military.

The interim authorities suspended the previous constitution written under Morsi’s presidency after his removal on July 3. That charter was drafted by a 100-member panel that was dominated by his Islamist allies.

The current panel includes representatives from civil society, political parties, institutions such as the army and police, and the Coptic Church.

It includes just two Islamists, neither of whom is from Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

There have been conflicting reports over when the referendum over the amended constitution will be held. Last week the panel said the referendum will be held in December, while interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi has the referendum would be held in the second half of January.

The unrest that has gripped Egypt since before Mubarak’s ouster has only worsened in the months that have passed since Morsi was ousted.

Egypt has witnessed protests and clashes that have left scores dead since Morsi’s ouster. The worst violence was in August, when police forcibly dispersed two protest camps set up by Morsi supporters.

Authorities have rounded up some 2,000 Islamists, including most of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.