- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2012

The State Department downplayed concerns Monday that Islamists are dominating the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution, despite criticism and outrage voiced by secular and Christian politicians in Cairo.

“We’re not going to prejudge, obviously, the work of this panel,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, referring the 100-person body elected over the weekend by a post-revolution parliament to write the constitution.

Two liberal Egyptian politicians quit the panel Monday, citing concerns that it is being dominated by Islamists and lacks sufficient representation for women and Christians.

About 70 percent of the panel comprises independent Islamists or members of Islamist parties including the Muslim Brootherhood.

Ms. Nuland told reporters in Washington that the constitutional panel represents “one of the next steps in the Egyptian transition process,” and noted that the new constitution will still “have to be put to referendum before the Egyptian people.”

Asked whether U.S. officials are concerned the panel is dominated by Islamists, Ms. Nuland said: “We’re not going to judge these groups by their names [or] their history. We’re going to judge them by what they do, we’re going to judge them by the output.”

She added: “This panel is from the elected parliament, so having been elected democratically, it’s now their obligation to uphold and defend and protect the democratic rights that brought them to power in the first place.

“That’s the standard that we’ll hold them to,” she said.

U.S.-Egypt relations were frayed earlier this year when Cairo’s military rulers cracked down on American nonprofit groups that promote democracy abroad. Egyptian authorities raided their offices, arrested several workers and charged them with fomenting chaos.

The workers were permitted to leave the nation this month, but many still face criminal charges in Egyptian courts. The issue has prompted a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to call for an end to U.S. aid to Egypt.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, notified Congress on Friday of her intention to waive certain democracy requirements so that $1.3 billion in U.S. aid could flow to Egypt.

Noting Cairo’s commitment to the Israeli-Egypt peace treaty, the State Department also is moving to free up $200 million in economic aid during the post-revolution transition.

Meanwhile in Egypt, the ruling military issued a veiled threat of a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood if the group persists in demands to form a new government, the Associated Press reported.

The warning points to a growing possibility of confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, which emerged as Egypt’s two most powerful institutions since the fall of longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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