Egypt's Islamist-controlled constituent assembly on
Friday approved a draft new constitution that would keep Islamic law
as the main source of legislation.
The approval comes three days before the Supreme Constitutional Court, Egypt's top court, is to hear a case calling for the dissolution of the assembly.
The draft will be sent to President Mahmoud Morsi who is expected to call a referendum on the new constitution.
Morsi is locked in a power strugle with top judges over a decree he issued last week granting himself broad powers. Judges and the opposition have accused Morsi of a power grab. His decree also made the constituent assembly immune to legal challenge.
Hardline Islamists in the assembly dropped their demands for a strict interpretation of sharia in future legislation.
The final draft kept the main provision on sharia unchanged from the previous constitution adopted in 1971, which provides that "the principles of sharia are the main source of legislation in Egypt."
Liberals and human rights activists are concerned that religious freedom may be curtailed if the new constitution is adopted.
Some 23 local rights groups have rejected the draft, saying it "does not represent the cultural, religious, ethnic, and political diversity of Egyptian society."
Article 43 in the charter guarantees freedom of belief to all, but freedom of worship only to "divine religions" - meaning Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
Rights groups are worried that under the new constitution, Egypt's Bahai minority and even Shiite Muslims will still be prevented from enjoying equal rights with followers of the recognized religious groups.
Secular-minded and Christian members of the assembly did not attend the voting session to protest against what they said were attempts by the Islamist majority to dictate the constitution, the first since Hosny Mubarak stepped down almost two years ago.
In an interview broadcast Thursday night on state television, Morsi said that enacting the new constitution was the only way out of the political crisis.
Morsi's decree last week making all his decisions immune to judicial review sparked street protests reminiscent of the popular uprising that forced Mubarak to resign and brought to the surface deep divisions in Egypt.
Opposition groups will on Friday hold a mass protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square to protest against the draft constitution and Morsi's decree.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist allies have changed the venue of a demonstration scheduled for Saturday from Tahrir to outside Cairo University on the other bank of the Nile to avoid possible clashes with opponents.
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