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Egypt Constitution Panel Case Referred to Supreme Court

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Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- A decision on whether to dissolve the assembly writing Egypt’s new constitution was sent to the Supreme Constitutional Court, setting up a potential showdown between the Islamists and a court that has ruled against them.

The administrative court’s decision, announced today by Judge Nazih Tanagho, leaves the fate of the new constitution in limbo as Egypt tries to restore stability and boost economic growth after last year’s uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling “will increase uncertainty over the path of Egypt’s transition from here on,” Said Hirsh, London-based economist for Capital Economics Ltd., said by phone. “If you couple that with problems around the parliament, then this is just more uncertainty from the perspective of anybody looking at Egypt as a potential investment.”

Islamists and secular groups are divided about the content of the new constitution and the role of Shariah, or Islamic law, and the drafting body has already been dissolved once. Parliamentary elections are due to be held after the charter is approved in a referendum.

After winning the presidential runoff in the end of June, President Mohamed Mursi, who was drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, claimed the right to appoint a new constituent assembly if it was dissolved for a second time.

Court Rulings

The constitutional court and the Islamists have clashed before.

A court ruling led to the disbanding of the Islamist-dominated parliament and halted Mursi’s attempt to reinstate it. It has also voiced concern about proposed articles in the charter it sees as infringing on its authority.

Referring the case to the constitutional court “creates another face-off” between the Brotherhood and the court, said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer and director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights.

Tanagho was forced to read out his ruling several times over the din of a packed courtroom, as supporters of the effort to dissolve the committee broke out into cries of: “The people want the fall of the committee.”

The Brotherhood has said attempts to dissolve the committee a second time will probably fail.

“The constitution will be already finalized and handed to the presidency for a popular referendum before the supreme constitutional court reaches a ruling,” Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman for the organization, said in a phone interview today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Abdel Latif Wahba in Cairo at alatifwahba@bloomberg.net; Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net