Egypt constitution ready by end November: panel

CAIRO (AFP) - A new Egyptian constitution replacing the one suspended on president Mohamed Mursi's ouster will be put to a referendum by November's end, a spokesman for the panel drafting the charter said on Sunday.

The new charter would lead to parliamentary and then presidential elections by mid-2014 according to a timetable set by military-installed president Adly Mansour after Mr Mursi's overthrow in July.

"According to the presidential decree... the new document ... will be subject to referendum ... expected within two weeks after finishing our task," spokesman Mohamed Salmawi said at a press conference.

The 50-member panel started its work on September 8, with 60 days to finalise the document, according to Mr Mansour's timetable.

Mr Salmawi said the panel, which has been divided into six sub-committees, has already approved about one-third of the articles, especially those dealing with "human rights and liberties".

He said each article had to be approved by at least 75 per cent of the panelists for it to be incorporated in the constitution.

Most of the controversial issues were still under discussion, such as the status of army whose budget was never open for scrutiny under previous constitutions, he added.

The military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ousted Mr Mursi on July 3 following massive protests demanding the Islamist's resignation after a year in office.

Sisi, now defence minister and deputy prime minister, is still seen as the most powerful man in a country that has been ruled by military men for decades, with the brief exception of Mr Mursi's presidency.

Mr Salmawi said the other sensitive issue was military trials for civilians, which were allowed in some cases under Mr Mursi's constitution.

"There is a very strong opinion inside the committee, and also outside, against military trials of civilians. The general feeling is not very sympathetic" towards such trials, Mr Salmawi said.

Several Egyptian human rights organisations have condemned military trials of civilians, saying that about 60 convictions have been passed by army tribunals since July 3.

The panel will also examine what kind of political system the Arab world's most populous country will adopt in the future and whether to cancel the toothless upper house of parliament.

Another issue to be decided is whether candidates in upcoming parliamentary elections will run as individuals or on party lists.

Mr Mursi had rushed the previous constitution through a referendum in December 2012, after declaring his decisions beyond judicial review, sparking an intractable political crisis.

Drafted by a mainly Islamist committee, Mr Mursi's constitution bolstered conservative interpretations of Islam as a primary source of legislation.

Only two Islamists sit on the new panel. The presidency has said it asked the party once led by Mr Mursi to join, but the Islamist group denied it received an invitation.

Following Mr Mursi's overthrow, police have rounded up more than 2,000 Islamists, including much of the leadership of Mr Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement.