Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church has announced it is withdrawing from talks on a new constitution, saying Islamist domination of the drafting body has made its participation "pointless," Egypt's state news agency said.
The decision late on Sunday followed calls by Egyptian liberals to boycott the constitution drafting committee, which is seen as failing to adequately represent the nation's diversity.
The current constitution was suspended by the country's army rulers in February of last year shortly after they took power from Egypt's long-serving autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak.
The 100-member constitutional assembly selected by the parliament is dominated by Islamists, reflecting their resounding victory in parliamentary elections.
"The Coptic Orthodox Church General Council agreed with the approval of all of the council's 20 members to withdraw from the constitutional assembly... as it found it was pointless for the church to be represented following the comments made by the national forces about the way the assembly was formed," the state news agency said, quoting a church statement.
Coptic Christians, who form Egypt's biggest minority group and constitute most of Egypt's 10 percent Christian population, have long had a difficult relationship with the country's overwhelmingly Muslim majority.
Since Mubarak's ouster, Christians have become increasingly worried after an upsurge in attacks on churches, which they blame on hardline Islamists, although experts say local disputes are often also behind them.
The death of Coptic Pope Shenouda last month has added to those worries as it left Christians wondering how to make their voices heard as Islamists rose to power.
The new constitution is eagerly awaited by many Egyptians. It is expected to include more freedoms and define rules of the state's political authorities, including the presidential powers which were absolute during the 30-year-rule of Mubarak.
Many liberal parties, public figures along with the state's top Islamic authority of al-Azhar have all previously announced their withdrawal from the assembly.
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