Egypt begins work on charter as Islamists press demos

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Experts begin work Sunday to amend a divisive constitution rammed through by ousted Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, while his supporters called for intensified rallies in Cairo demanding his reinstatement.

Egypt’s caretaker cabinet has sought to forge ahead with an army “roadmap” for a political transition amid heightened tensions as Mursi’s Islamist supporters press on with the protests that have sparked bloody violence.

Foreign minister Nabil Fahmy launched a public relations campaign to boost the cabinet’s credibility abroad on Saturday, nearly three weeks after the military toppled Mursi in a popularly backed coup.

On the domestic front, interim president Adly Mansour named a committee of four university professors and six judges to come up with a new constitution.

In the wake of the July 3 coup, Egypt’s new army-backed administration suspended the constitution that had been drawn up by an Islamist-dominated panel and adopted by referendum in December with a majority of 64 percent, but with a voter turnout of just 33 percent.

The experts will have 30 days to complete their task, after which their amendments will be brought before a 50-strong body representing different groups in Egyptian society, which will submit final changes to Mansour.

The caretaker president will then have 30 days to call a referendum on the new charter, paving the way for new elections.

Work also began in earnest at the weekend on boosting the new regime’s foreign relations.

Fahmy said on Saturday he would prioritise “defending the revolution abroad.”

The ministry would “form a committee to follow what is published about the revolution abroad and to provide sound information,” he told a news conference.

Mursi’s overthrow has received a mixed reception abroad.

The African Union has suspended Egypt’s membership, but some Gulf countries that distrusted Mursi have pledged billions of dollars in aid.

Britain has said it was revoking export licences for equipment used by Egypt’s military and police amid concerns it could be used against protesters.

Fahmy also took a more cautious tone towards the conflict in Syria than Mursi’s government did, saying Mursi’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with the war-torn country would be “re-examined.”

Mursi had repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign.

“There is no intention of jihad in Syria,” the former Egyptian ambassador to Washington said, in reference to calls for a holy war in Syria under Mursi’s presidency.

Fahmy was due to meet the new leader of Syria’s main opposition coalition, Ahmad Assi Jarba, on Sunday.

In a boost to the new administration, King Abdullah II of Jordan became the first foreign head of state to visit since the army ousted and detained Mursi.

King Abdullah pledged his support “for Egyptian national choices,” a presidential statement said.

But Mursi’s supporters have flatly rejected the legitimacy of the interim cabinet.

They called for fresh rallies in the capital on Sunday to demand the reinstatement of Mursi, planning marches to several foreign embassies in Cairo, including that of the United States.

Supporters of Mursi, who was ousted after a single year of turbulent rule, have pressed demonstrations against the new cabinet, holding marches and protests across the country since his fall.

Thousands of Mursi loyalists have massed in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square for about three weeks, calling for his reinstatement and denouncing General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief behind his overthrow.

They believe a sustained campaign of protests could persuade the military to restore him briefly ahead of any elections.

Although mostly peaceful, the pro-Mursi protests have resulted in deadly clashes, with the unrest claiming more than 100 lives in all, according to an AFP tally.

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