Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament on Saturday voted overwhelmingly in favor of ensuring that its own lawmakers make up a large portion of a panel writing the country's first constitution after the ouster of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Lawmakers at a joint meeting of both houses approved a quota giving lawmakers half of the seats on a 100-member panel that will draft the new constitution.
The remaining 50 panel members will be chosen by parliament, and are likely to be legal experts, academics and Muslim and Christian scholars.
The makeup of the panel has been hotly debated. Islamists, who dominate the newly elected parliament, wanted lawmakers to have a significant role in the panel. But many Christians and liberals had pushed for more outsiders on the constitution writing body.
Amr Hamzawy, a lawmaker from a minority liberal party, said that the quota selected on Saturday is not representative enough of women, youth and other segments of Egyptian society who have little to no representation in parliament.
"What happened today lessens the chance for a wide representation of the country," Hamzawy said, adding that he voted to have only 30 lawmakers on the panel. "I would have liked that there are less members of parliament."
The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's most powerful political party, has promised that the constitution will be inclusive and are not likely to support changing key wording from its current state about the role of Islam in the government. The current language says the state religion is Islam and the principle of Islamic Sharia law is the main source of legislation.
However, some ultraconservative Muslims have called for the article to be changed to read that Islamic law is the only source of legislation _ a proposal opposed by liberals and moderate Islamists.
The 678-member newly-elected parliament is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls nearly half of seats in the more powerful lower house. Ultraconservatives from within the Al-Nour party control about a quarter of the seats.
Although ideologically different, together the two parties will appoint a number of members from within their own ranks, giving them a formidable presence on the constitutional panel and a strong voice in the process.
The panel is supposed to be selected by March 24. Once the panel is seated, it will have six months to draft the constitution and then put it to a national referendum.