Egyptian security forces fired teargas in Cairo's Tahrir Square to disperse anti-government protesters on Sunday, as a new constitution that reinforces the military's political power edged closer to approval.
The draft constitution reflects how the balance of power has shifted in Egypt since secular-minded generals deposed Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July after mass protests against him. It contains language that could ban Islamist parties outright.
A major milestone in Egypt's political roadmap, the constitution must be approved in a referendum before new elections, which Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, driven underground by security measures and a legal ban, is unlikely to contest.
"The people want to topple the regime," chanted several hundred protesters who descended on Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 2011 uprising against autocratic President Hosni Mubarak.
Though it only lasted about half an hour before security forces acted, it appeared to be the biggest protest by Brotherhood sympathizers in Tahrir since Morsi's fall. "With our blood and souls we sacrifice for you, Islam," chanted some.
One scaled a lamp post where he hung a picture of Morsi. Others flashed the four-finger hand sign denoting sympathy with the hundreds of Morsi supporters shot dead by the security forces when they broke up their Cairo sit-ins on August 14.
Some of the protesters said they were not from the Brotherhood. "I want Sisi out and a real end to army rule," said Ramez Ibrahim, 32, a professor of political science, referring to armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Army vehicles moved in to drive the demonstrators away and later sealed off the square completely. Some passersby shouted abuse at the protesters, others waved in support. Earlier, protesters set a police truck ablaze near Cairo University.
The government says it is determined to implement a law passed last week that heavily restricts protests. Criticized by the United States, the law has hardened fears of pro-democracy campaigners about the future of political freedoms in Egypt.
One of two leading secular activists detained for calling protests in defiance of the law was released on Sunday.
Assembly votes on constitution
Morsi's fall set off the bloodiest bout of internal strife in Egypt's modern history, with hundreds of his partisans killed and armed attacks on the security forces becoming commonplace.
Some 200 policemen and soldiers have been killed in what the military-backed government casts as a war on terrorism. The Brotherhood says it is peacefully resisting the army takeover.
A few hundred meters (yards) from Tahrir Square, the 50-member constituent assembly was voting on the draft constitution whose provisions include a ban on parties formed on a religious basis. Islamists have won all post-Mubarak national votes.
The draft constitution widens the already broad privileges enjoyed by the army by requiring the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for the choice of a defense minister to serve for eight years from when the document is ratified.
It does not indicate how the minister of defense could be sacked or who has the authority to fire him.
The new constitution will replace one drafted by an Islamist-dominated assembly and signed into law by Morsi last year after it was approved in a referendum. The new text strips out Islamist-inspired additions introduced last year.
The Nour Party, an ultra-conservative Islamist party that backed Morsi's ouster, has described the draft as "satisfying".
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