CAIRO, EGYPT - An Islamist-dominated assembly has approved a draft constitution for Egypt without the participation of liberal and Christian members. Members finished voting on all 234 articles individually, passing all largely by consensus, in a 16-hour session that ended just after sunrise Friday.
The rushed passage of the charter before a court ruling on Sunday that could dissolve the constitutional assembly is likely to further inflame a clash between Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the largely secular opposition. The draft now goes to Morsi, who is expected to call for a referendum within 30 days.
The move advances a charter with an Islamist bent that rights experts say could give Muslim clerics oversight over legislation and bring restrictions on freedom of speech, women's rights and other liberties.
"This constitution represents the diversity of the Egyptian people. All Egyptians, male and female, will find themselves in this constitution," Essam el-Erian, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, declared.
But the lack of inclusion in the assembly was on display in the nationally televised gathering -- of the 85 members in attendance, there was not a single Christian and only four women, all Islamists. Many of the men wore beards, a hallmark of Muslim conservatives.
For weeks, liberal, secular and Christian members, already a minority in the 100-member assembly had been withdrawing to protest what they call the Islamists' hijacking of the process. The rush to finish came as the latest twist in a week-long crisis pitting Morsi and his Islamist supporters against a mostly secular and liberal opposition and the judiciary.
Voting had not been expected for another two months. But the assembly abruptly moved it up in order to pass the draft before the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on Sunday on whether to dissolve the assembly.
"I am saddened to see this come out while Egypt is so divided," Egypt's top reform leader, Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei said, speaking on private Al-Nahar TV. But he predicted the document would not last long. "It will be part of political folklore and will go to the garbage bin of history."
A new opposition bloc led by ElBaradei and other liberals said the assembly had lost its legitimacy.
"It is trying to impose a constitution monopolized by one trend and is the furthest from national consensus, produced in a farcical way," the National Salvation Front said in a statement read by Waheed Abdel-Meguid, one of the assembly members who withdrew.
The assembly's vote escalated the already bruising confrontation sparked last week when Morsi gave himself near absolute powers by neutralizing the judiciary, the last branch of the state not in his hands. Morsi banned the courts from dissolving the constitutional assembly or the upper house of parliament and from reviewing his own decisions.
Speaking in an interview on state TV aired late Thursday, Morsi defended his edicts, saying they were a necessary "delicate surgery" needed to get Egypt through a transitional period and end instability he blamed on the lack of a constitution.