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Egyptian court ruling raises stakes in presidential race

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Brotherhood defends its dominance: 'This is the will of the people'

Now some new body – its composition and selection process as yet unclear – will be tasked with writing the constitution. Some liberals rejoiced in the court’s decision, hoping it would result in a constituent assembly that was more inclusive.

Secular parties had wanted fewer of the members to come from the elected parliament, which is dominated by Islamist parties. In the three-stage election that spanned the end of last year and the beginning of 2012, the FJP and the ultraconservative Nour Party came in first and second, and then worked together to appoint the constituent assembly. 

Liberals objected not only to the fact that about 60 percent of the assembly came from an Islamist background but also to the apparent lack of criteria for selecting members, which meant a young spokesman for the Nour Party was included but notable constitutional experts were left off the panel. Few Christians or women were included, and Egypt's Bedouin and Nubian minorities were also underrepresented.

“This is the wish of the Egyptian people, who chose the Islamists by a large percentage,” said the Brotherhood’s secretary general, Mahmoud Hussein, in an interview at the group's headquarters on Sunday.

The Brotherhood has thrown its weight around since it won parliamentary elections, insisting that its victory gave it a popular mandate for the constituent assembly and breaking a year-long pledge not to field a presidential candidate. Over the weekend, the group announced it would register a second presidential candidate as a backup, in case their first choice, deputy leader Khairat El Shater, was disqualified.

(Mr. Shater, like many Brotherhood members, spent time in jail during Hosni Mubarak's rule. Though the Brotherhood says he's since received a full pardon, they fear he could still be disqualified.)

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