Egyptian liberals have refused to sit on a body drafting a new constitution dominated by Islamists, despite an offer by the Muslim Brotherhood to give them more seats, in a sign of growing political polarization after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
The new constitution is due to be written by a 100-member assembly of politicians and public figures over the next six month. However, the body is dominated by Islamists, reflecting their resounding victory in parliamentary elections, and dozens of non-Islamist representatives have already walked out complaining that their voices are being drowned out. That has put the assembly's legitimacy in doubt.
Around 30 members of the assembly have so far withdrawn including the state's top Islamic authority Al-Azhar, the Coptic Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches and a Constitutional Court representative.
Late on Monday, a group of liberal parties who hold around a dozen seats in the Constitutional Assembly refused an offer by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) stay on the understanding they could take 10 seats vacated by FJP members. Instead they vowed to take their protest to the street.
“It isn't enough, there must be rules set for the selection criteria based on proficiency and the non-religious stream's representation should be higher,” said Basel Adel, an MP from the Free Egyptians party - one of those to withdraw.
It is unclear whether the assembly will be able to operate with less than its full complement of members.
The Brotherhood has repeatedly been saying it does not want to monopolize political institutions in the new Egypt but earlier this week it reversed a pledge not to contest the presidential election in May and June. It is set to form a government after that vote.
It also disputes accusations that Islamists dominate the assembly, saying it contains only 48 Islamists, 36 from parliament and 12 from outside. Efforts by Brotherhood leaders to bring back those who have withdrawn have failed amid accusations from their opponents that many more members have Islamist leanings and that candidates' selection was based on loyalty, not expertise.
On Tuesday thirty political and labor groups called for mass protests on April 23 - the day a court is due to decide if the assembly was correctly formed.
“The front believes there is no other way to face a conspiracy that will drive Egypt to ruin except by relying on the people who sparked, and protect, the revolution,” the newly-formed group, named the Front for a Constitution For All Egyptians, said in a statement.
Margaret Azer from the Wafd Party - the third biggest after the FJP and the ultra-conservative Nour Party - said the selection process should be scrapped and begun again.