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Egyptian Islamists rally for Sharia in constitution

CAIRO — Over 10,000 ultraconservative Muslims demonstrated on Friday in downtown Cairo to demand that Egypt’s new constitution be based on the rulings of Islamic law, or Sharia, in the latest tussle over the role of religion in the country’s future.

The writing of the constitution has been fraught with controversy since last year’s political uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak and ushered formerly repressed Islamists into power. But Islamists themselves are not in agreement over the place of Sharia in the document.

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Demonstrators in Tahrir Square demanded that the panel tasked with writing the constitution override liberal and secular objections and include language that could see religious scholars influencing legislation. The panel is led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful Islamist group from which the country’s new President Mohammed Morsi hails.

The controversy surrounding the constitution is centered on the wording of the second amendment. In the former constitution, the wording stated that the ‘‘principles of Islamic Sharia’’ are the basis of legislation. This wording is favored by liberals because they say it refers to the broad ideas of Islam.

Ultraconservatives are pushing for more, though. They want the wording changed to state that the basis of law will be ‘‘the rulings of Sharia,’’ implying Egypt’s laws may be left to the interpretation of religious scholars.

Controversy over the wording of the charter has thrown into question when the draft will be complete. Panel members say they plan to put the charter to a nationwide referendum before the end of the year.

However, liberals on the panel are again threatening to walk out, and Islamists writing the draft are under pressure from more conservative groups to strongly enshrine Sharia in the constitution. Egypt’s new Coptic pope, Tawadros II, said this week that the constitution will not be acceptable if it is overtly religious. Courts are also currently reviewing lawsuits calling for the assembly to be disbanded for a second time.

Egypt’s two most powerful political movements, the Brotherhood and the more conservative Salafi Nour Party, said they were not participating in Friday’s protest, although many of their supporters did.

Friday’s rally was significantly smaller without the organized support of the Brotherhood. The demonstration was mostly peaceful until the evening, until a small group opposed to the rally began arguing with the Islamists off of the square. The two groups scuffled and threw stones. There were no reports of injuries.

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