CAIRO (AP) — Egypt will have a new constitution drafted by the end of September and ready to be submitted to a nationwide referendum, the country’s prime minister said Saturday.
Hisham Kandil did not specify a date for the referendum, though, according to Egypt’s MENA state news agency.
The drafting of a new constitution has been a highly divisive issue in Egypt since last year’s uprising that ousted longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. The new charter is expected to define limits on the president’s powers and the role of Islamic law.
Liberals walked out twice from the panel tasked with writing the constitution in the past, complaining that the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful political group, was trying to monopolize its drafting.
The panel was appointed by members of the Brotherhood-led parliament. After the legislature was dissolved, the country’s military generals gave themselves the right to oversee the drafting process. However, in a bold political move, President Mohammed Mursi, who is a member of the Brotherhood, forced the top generals into early retirement this month and seized back control of the constitution writing process.
Mursi has said that if the 100-member panel currently drafting the document does not finish its work for whatever reason, he will appoint a new one within 15 days and give it three weeks to finish its work. The draft will then be put to a vote in a national referendum within 30 days.
Separately, Mursi’s spokesman announced Saturday a number of presidential advisors from the around 15 that will be appointed by the president. The president has yet to name a vice president, but has promised to be inclusive.
Some of the names announced as advisors were a mix of opposition figures, and included women and a Coptic Christian. Among them is Egyptian journalist Sakina Fouad, who is a member of the opposition Democratic Front Party, Samir Morcos, a Coptic Christian official, and Essam al-Haddad of the Brotherhood.
Despite attempts to bring various groups into the fold, average Egyptians continue to stage daily protests against poverty, social inequality and injustice.
Earlier Saturday, an Egyptian man doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire outside the presidential palace in Cairo to protest his years of unemployment. Arafa Kamel Khalifa was in critical condition after being rushed to a hospital, officials said.
His self-immolation comes after last year’s Egyptian uprising spurred by demands to overthrow Mubarak’s regime, which was widely seen as careless to the problems its people faced on a daily basis, including corruption, unemployment and grinding poverty.
Presidential spokesman Yasser Ali told reporters that Khalifa’s act was “distressing” and “tragic” and that the complaints office established by Mursi would work harder to resolve citizen’s problems.
The 41-year-old Khalifa traveled 390 kilometers (200 miles) to Cairo from his home in the southern city of Assiut to protest losing his job four years ago. He was earning 100 dollars a month until the electricity company fired him. He has been unemployed since.
A similar act of self-immolation in Tunisia last year helped trigger the Arab Spring revolts. Several copycat instances of people setting themselves alight followed elsewhere in the Arab world, including nearly half a dozen in Egypt before the uprising that toppled Mubarak erupted in January 2011.
The government faces mounting demands to increase salaries for millions of civil servants and public sector workers. The government in Egypt is the biggest employer in the country of around 82 million people, some 40 percent of whom live near or below the poverty line.