Cairo: An Egyptian panel approved today more than half of the articles of a new constitution aimed at paving the way for a return to elected rule after July`s military ouster of president Mohamed Morsi.
If adopted in full, the charter will be put to a popular referendum early next year in the first milestone of the military-installed government`s transition roadmap, to be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections in mid-2014.
Voting on the 247 articles began today with 48 members of the 50-member panel present, and is to resume tomorrow afternoon, state news agency MENA reported.
It said 138 articles were approved today.
After the army ousted Morsi in July, Egypt`s interim rulers suspended the 2012 constitution, which had been hastily drafted during his year in power by a panel dominated by Morsi`s Islamist allies.
The roadmap stipulates that a referendum on the constitution be held by the end of the year, but officials have said it is now expected in the second half of January.
Articles approved today included one stipulating that Islamic sharia law will be the main source of legislation as was the case during the regime of toppled ruler Hosni Mubarak.
The other main article approved was one forbidding the formation of religious parties or parties based on religious grounds.
This is expected to have consequences for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, most of whose top leaders including Morsi are behind bars since July.
"A party can have a religious identity, but it has to abide by laws, the constitution and the Egyptian civil state," panel chief Amr Mussa, who once headed the Arab League and served as Mubarak`s foreign minister, told AFP.
The panel includes representatives from civil society, political parties, institutions such as the army and police, and the Coptic church.
But it includes just two Islamists, neither of whom is from the Muslim Brotherhood, which won a series of polls following Mubarak`s ouster but has in recent months been the target of a sweeping crackdown that has seen more than 1,000 people killed.
Mussa told reporters that the panel "reached an agreement on the entire constitution which has been extensively revised" from the one adopted under Morsi.
But rights groups and activists criticised the draft, particularly Article 204, which would allow military trials of civilians accused of "direct attacks" on the armed forces, a provision they fear could be applied to protesters, journalists and dissidents.
The article says that "no civilian can be tried by military judges, except for crimes of direct attacks on armed forces, military installations and military personnel."