CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court on Tuesday halted a move to create a new constitutional assembly pending a ruling on its legality, challenging the legitimacy of a body spurned by liberal and Christian groups because of its domination by Islamists.
The injunction slapped on the decision by parliament could delay the introduction of a constitution needed urgently to clarify the powers of Egypt’s new head of state, due to take over from ruling generals by mid-year.
The government and parliament had argued that the court had no authority over the move to form the constituent assembly.
But Judge Ali Fekri said the court “rejected the argument that the court is not specialized and decided to halt the decision” that formed the assembly. He passed on the case’s documents to a judicial panel for a review.
This case is one of several lawsuits that had demanded the dissolution of the assembly because it did not represent the diversity of Egyptian society.
Lawyer Khaled Abo Bakr said the court’s capacity to review the case rested on whether parliament’s step to form the assembly was legally seen as an administrative decision.
“This means the assembly’s activities are frozen; it is suspended until further notice, until the judicial panel convenes,” he said.
Selected by parliament, the 100-member constitutional assembly is composed mostly of Islamists, who won the majority of seats in Egypt’s first free parliamentary vote in decades.
Only a handful of seats were reserved for youth groups, women and for Christian Copts, who said they plan to boycott the assembly, following the example of liberal groups and the country’s highest Sunni Islamic institution al-Azhar, who all withdrew from the assembly.
The case was brought by lawyers and activists complaining that the body appointed by the Islamist-led parliament to write the constitution laying out the framework of laws and state institutions fails to reflect the diversity of Egyptian society.
The current constitution was suspended by the army rulers in February last year, shortly after they took power from Egypt’s long-serving autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak, who was forced out by a popular uprising.
The new document is expected to include more freedoms and define rules for the authorities including setting out the terms of presidential power.
It could also decide which institution of state will effectively rule the Arab world’s most populous country.
Additional reporting by Dina Zayed and Sherine El Madany; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Mark Heinrich