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Egypt begins work on charter as Islamists press demos

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Experts met Sunday to begin amending a divisive constitution rammed through by ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, while his Islamist supporters called for intensified rallies in Cairo demanding his reinstatement.

Forging ahead with an army "roadmap" for political transition, the country's caretaker cabinet also gathered for its first meeting focussed on security and the economy following deadly violence at rallies calling for Morsi's return.

Foreign minister Nabil Fahmy launched a public relations campaign, meanwhile, to boost the army-backed administration's credibility abroad, nearly three weeks after the military toppled Morsi in a popularly backed coup.

On the domestic front, a newly appointed panel of four university professors and six judges began talks on drafting a new constitution at the Shura Council, or upper house of parliament, the official MENA news agency said.

In the wake of the July 3 coup, Egypt's new leadership suspended the constitution that had been drawn up by an Islamist-dominated panel and adopted by referendum in December with a majority of 64 percent, but with a voter turnout of just 33 percent.

Interim president Adly Mansour appointed the constitutional committee on Saturday.

Its members now have 30 days to complete their task, after which their amendments will be brought before a 50-strong body representing different groups in Egyptian society, which will submit final changes to Mansour.

Mansour will then have 30 days to call a referendum on the new charter, paving the way for new elections.

Work also began in earnest on boosting the new regime's foreign relations.

Fahmy said on Saturday he would prioritise "defending the revolution abroad".

The ministry would "form a committee to follow what is published about the revolution abroad and to provide sound information," he told a news conference.

Morsi's overthrow has received a mixed reception abroad.

The African Union has suspended Egypt's membership, but some Gulf countries that distrusted Morsi have pledged billions of dollars in aid.

Britain has said it was revoking export licences for equipment used by Egypt's military and police amid concerns it could be used against protesters.

Fahmy also took a more cautious tone towards the conflict in Syria than Morsi's government did, saying Morsi's decision to cut diplomatic ties with the war-torn country would be "re-examined".

Morsi had repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign.

"There is no intention of jihad in Syria," the former Egyptian ambassador to Washington said, in reference to calls for a holy war in Syria under Morsi's presidency.

Fahmy was due to meet the new leader of Syria's main opposition coalition, Ahmad Assi Jarba, on Sunday.

In a boost to the new administration, King Abdullah II of Jordan became the first foreign head of state to visit since the army ousted and detained Morsi.

King Abdullah pledged his support "for Egyptian national choices", the presidency said.

But Morsi's supporters have flatly rejected the legitimacy of the interim cabinet.

They called for fresh rallies in the capital on Sunday to demand the reinstatement of Morsi, planning marches to several foreign embassies in Cairo, including that of the United States.

Supporters of Morsi, who was ousted after a single year of turbulent rule, have pressed demonstrations against the new cabinet, holding marches and protests across the country since his fall.

Thousands of Morsi loyalists have massed in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya square for about three weeks, calling for his reinstatement and denouncing General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief behind his overthrow.

They believe a sustained campaign of protests could persuade the military to restore him briefly ahead of any elections.

Although mostly peaceful, the pro-Morsi protests have resulted in deadly clashes, with the unrest claiming more than 100 lives in all, according to an AFP tally.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130721/egypt-begins-work-charter-islamists-press-demos-0