Tahrir Square
Tahrir Square AFP photo

An Egyptian panel rushed through a draft constitution seen as undermining basic freedoms on Friday, resulting in mass protests in Cairo.

AFP reported that tens of thousands of protesters rallied as the opposition piled pressure on President Mohammed Morsi.

"Down with the constitutional assembly," vast crowds armed with megaphones chanted as they filed into Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in early 2011.

Banners condemned "dictatorial Morsi" while protesters shouted "down with the rule of the Guide," a reference to the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, through whose ranks Morsi rose before becoming president.

The marches, led by opposition figures, set off from several Cairo districts early in the day to join the protesters in the square.

The Islamist-dominated assembly, tasked with drafting a new charter to replace the one suspended after Mubarak's ouster, approved the draft early on Friday after an almost 24 hour-long session boycotted by liberals and Christians.

The panel's head, Hossam el-Ghiriani, said a delegation from the Constituent Assembly would visit Morsi on Saturday to present him the draft constitution. Morsi is expected to call for a referendum within two weeks.

Rights activists say the charter undermines freedoms of women and religious minorities while the opposition says it was rushed through to force an early referendum.

The constitution has taken center stage in the country's worst political crisis since Morsi's election in June, squaring largely Islamist forces against liberal opposition groups.

The crisis was sparked when Morsi issued a decree on November 22 giving himself sweeping powers and placing his decisions beyond judicial review.

His decree prevented the constitutional court from ruling on the constituent assembly's legality, as it was meant to do on Sunday. A court had disbanded an earlier panel.

Rights activists have lambasted the draft charter, with Human Rights Watch saying it "protects some rights but undermines others".

"Rushing through a draft while serious concerns about key rights protections remain unaddressed will create huge problems down the road that won’t be easy to fix," the organizations Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement quoted by AFP.

The document retained a vague Mubarak-era constitution article stating that the "principles of Islamic law" are the main source of legislation.

But it added a new provision stipulating that the principles of Islamic law were to be interpreted according to the tenets of Sunni Islamic rulings, a clause Christian churches have opposed.

The draft also allows that state a role in "protecting ethics and morals" and bans "insulting humans," which rights activists say could censor political criticism of the president.

In a pre-recorded interview broadcast on Thursday night, Morsi repeated that his new powers, in which he can make decisions beyond judicial review, will expire once the constitution is ratified.

"This constitutional declaration is temporary, and it will end once the people have approved the constitution." Morsi told state television.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)

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