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Egypt names key constitution panel with few Islamists

By Tom Perry and Shaimaa Fayed

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's army-backed government unveiled a constituent assembly on Sunday almost devoid of Islamists, and gave it 60 days to review amendments that would erase Islamic articles brought in by the Muslim Brotherhood and more hardline Islamic parties.

The constitutional review is part of a road map unveiled by the administration that took power after the army deposed President Mohamed Mursi on July 3.

Egypt will hold parliamentary and presidential elections only once the constitution is approved in a referendum.

Reflecting a power shift as the government cracks down on the Brotherhood, accusing it of terrorism, the changes proposed in a first draft of the constitution may open the way for a comeback by some members of the old order associated with Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in a popular revolt in 2011.

The proposed amendments would remove Islamic articles - hotly disputed by secularists - that include one that gave Muslim scholars a say over some affairs of state, and also lift a ban on some Mubarak-era officials assuming public office.

Drawn up by a 10-member "committee of experts" appointed by decree, the draft preserves the privileged status of the military, which it effectively shields from civilian oversight.

Although Islamists won five popular votes held since 2011, the constituent assembly will have only two Islamists among its 50 members. One belongs to the hardline Salafi Nour party, the other is a former Brotherhood leader now harshly critical of the group he left last year.

PRO-DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT ABSENT

While the assembly includes the founders of the Tamarud petition campaign that galvanized support for protests that led to Mursi's downfall, there is no obvious place for the pro-democracy youth movements that ignited the 2011 revolt against Mubarak.

There are also places for Muslim scholars, representatives of the church, the arts, unions, members of secular parties and prominent figures such former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and renowned heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub.

"It's a very establishment list," said Nathan Brown, an expert on Egypt based at George Washington University in the United States, adding: "The procedure does seem to tilt in favor of accepting what the experts have drafted."

The presidency said six Islamist parties, including the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, had been approached to fill the two seats set aside for Islamists. Only Nour had responded.

The Brotherhood says it wants nothing to do with the army's plans for Egypt, decrying Mursi's removal as a coup against a democratically elected head of state.

At least 900 people, most of them Mursi supporters, have been killed since he was toppled.

The Brotherhood and the Nour Party secured a major say over the last constitution-drafting process by winning some 70 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections held after Mubarak's downfall.

Critics said the Islamists then sidelined other groups in a process that failed to reflect Egypt's diversity. The constitution was signed into law last December by Mursi after being approved in a referendum.

The panel will meet for the first time on September 8.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jon Boyle)

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