Middle East

Egyptians Wary Of Military's Constitutional Panel

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Many of the loose-knit groups that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Wednesday to try to form a unified front that would influence the changes needed to clear the way for free elections. But the country's military has already named a committee that would recommend changes in Egypt's constitution.


There have also been demonstrations, today, in Libya. Antigovernment protestors defied a crackdown. Protests came, in Yemen, today, as well.

In Egypt the protests are over, at least for now, and many of the loose-knit groups that ousted President Hosni Mubarak met yesterday. They're trying to form a unified front, but the military may be moving faster, sending its own process in motion to form a constitution and raising concerns about who's on the committee to write that constitution. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Cairo.

COREY FLINTOFF: Hisham Kassem is an Egyptian publisher and pro-democracy activist who fears that the process of changing the constitution will be hijacked by Islamist groups.

Mr. HISHAM KASSEM (Egyptian publisher): I'm told that there was one of the six committee members comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. So after 20 years of working for democracy, the last thing I want is a committee to come and draft a constitution that would turn Egypt into a theocracy. And it's not something I think I will take sitting down.

FLINTOFF: The member Kassem is referring to is Subhi Saleh, a former parliamentary candidate from Alexandria who's a member of the banned group.

In an interview last week, Saleh told NPR that the Muslim Brotherhood is not seeking to turn Egypt into a religious state.

Mr. SUBHI SALEH (Muslim Brotherhood member): (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says the group hopes the new system in Egypt will be a democratic one in which everyone has their rights.

The chairman of the constitutional panel is Tarek al-Bishry, a judge who has criticized Mubarak in the past. He's been associated with a group called Al-Wasat, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The panel also includes a judge who is a Coptic Christian.

(Soundbite of male speaking in foreign language on sound system)

FLINTOFF: On Wednesday, members of various opposition groups and many people who belong to no group at all met at the headquarters of Cairo's Journalist Syndicate in an effort to start building some kind of consensus. Among them was Kamal Abouaita, a union leader and long-time critic of the Mubarak regime.

Mr. KAMAL ABOUAITA (Union Leader): (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says some people on the committee come from the old regime, and are still influenced by it. He worries that the committee members may subvert any constitutional changes.

Ahmed Salah, one of the original organizers of the Tahrir Square Protests is another critic of the committee.

Mr. AHMED SALAH: This committee does not meet the peoples' aspirations and demands. We want to change the constitution, not to try to put little pieces here and there just to keep this constitution from falling.

FLINTOFF: Salah says the committee may simply be a way for the military junta to bypass peoples' demands, rather than meeting them.

Mr. SALAH: To a certain extent, I believe it is part of the tools that are being used currently to deprive this revolution from its main and most important goals.

FLINTOFF: And the first goal, he says, is a secular, parliamentary democracy. At this point, the constitutional committee's work is about as opaque as the Cairo air during the dust storms that have blanketed the city over the past several days. A committee member told NPR that he couldn't talk about the panel's deliberations until it has finished, in about a week. Then, he said, all will become clear.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Cairo.

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