Egypt liberals 'back to square one' with Islamists

Members of the panel elected the Islamist speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatni as its head

CAIRO - Egyptian liberal groups said on Friday that they were back to square one in a struggle with Islamists over the drafting of a new constitution a day after most parties agreed on a compromise.
Most parties had agreed on Thursday to boost their representation in the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly, but one of the dissenting parties said the agreement had no teeth and an entire shake-up of the panel was needed.
"It was an attempt to give the impression there was an agreement, and that the military council did what it had to do," said leftwing Tagammu party leader Refaat al-Said.
He said a moderate Islamist party and the liberal Wafd party had proposed that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) -- political arm of the dominant Muslim Brotherhood -- give up 10 of its seats on the panel for other groups.
He said six liberal and secular-leaning parties had refused to sign the agreement, including the largest liberal movement, the Free Egyptians Party.
The Wafd, the country's oldest liberal party, signed off on the agreement.
"(FJP leader Mohammed) Mursi said that the (agreement) would be a recommendation, and he couldn't promise anything," Said said.
The new members of the panel would be drawn from a reserve list of candidates parliament had agreed on.
The panel, which is evenly divided between parliamentarians and public figures, was elected by the Islamist-majority parliament which also voted for a number of reserve candidates who could replace the panelists.
It will draft a new constitution to replace the one suspended by the military, which took power after a popular uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.
The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported on Friday that 15 parties and two independent candidates signed off on the agreement.
Ahmed Sobea, a spokesman for the FJP, said the party would recommend the agreement to the constituent assembly, which would take the final decision.
"Several (FJP) members have expressed their willingness to withdraw" to be replaced, he said.
Members of the panel elected the Islamist speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatni as its head on Wednesday, intensifying a standoff with secularists over the framing of the new constitution.
Katatni's election as speaker came after liberal, leftist and independent parties and figures angrily withdrew from the committee, accusing Islamists of monopolising the drafting process.
Only 74 of the 100-member panel attended the first session on Wednesday, the state-run MENA news agency reported.
The constituent assembly's legitimacy was further called into question after the Supreme Constitutional Court and Cairo's Al-Azhar university -- Sunni Islam's highest institute of learning -- also withdrew.