Egypt's Mursi shields assembly writing constitution

CAIRO Thu Nov 22, 2012 1:29pm EST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi issued a decree on Thursday that protects an assembly writing the country's new constitution from dissolution and gives it extra time to finish its work.

The new constitution is a fundamental component of the transition to democracy in the Arab world's most populous nation but its drafting has been plagued by disputes, mainly pitting Islamists against their secular-minded critics.

The decree read on state television by the spokesman for the elected Islamist president stipulated that neither the assembly or the upper house of parliament, or Shura council, could be dissolved by the judiciary.

"No judicial authority can dissolve Shura council or constitutional assembly," spokesman Yasser Ali said, reading the text of the decree. Plaintiffs critical of Islamist influence in the assembly have raised legal challenges to its legitimacy.

The decree also gave the constitutional assembly an additional two months to complete its work, meaning the drafting process could go on until February.

The constitution must be put to a popular referendum before it is approved. Once it is passed, Egypt is to hold elections to pick a new parliament. The previous assembly was dissolved in June.

(Reporting by Cairo Bureau; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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