CAIRO  -  Former presidential candidate and opposition leader Amr Mussa was on Sunday elected head of Egypt’s 50-member panel that has been tasked with drawing up a new constitution.
The panel was named a week ago by interim president Adly Mansour to draw up a revised constitution in the wake of the ouster by the army of former president Mohamed Morsi on July 3.
A disputed constitution drafted under Morsi was approved in a December 2012 referendum with only a 33-percent turnout. Sunday’s election of Mussa, former Arab League secretary general and foreign minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, came during the panel’s first session.
Mussa easily held off a challenge by influential lawyer Sameh Ashur, garnering 30 votes against Ashur’s 16, with two abstentions and two absentees.
Mussa heads the National Salvation Front along with former UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, who like Mussa ran against Morsi for the presidency last June.
The panel comprises 50 figures drawn from a wide array of political strands. However Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has refused to take part.
The Islamists are represented by the Salafist party Al-Nour, which supported Morsi’s July 3 ouster by the army. However the party’s sole representative, Bassem al-Zarqa, was absent on Sunday.
The new panel has 60 days to submit a final version of the revised constitution to the interim president, who in turn has 30 days to announce the date of a referendum.
During Sunday’s session three members were elected to serve as Mussa’s deputies: former Brotherhood leader Kamel al-Helbawi, human rights activist Mona El-Zulfaqr and physician Magdy Yaqub.
Author Mohamed Salmawi was appointed as spokesman of the panel.
Egyptian military helicopters carried out a second day of air raids on Sunday in the Sinai Peninsula, where they are facing an insurgency by militants, witnesses said.
Apache helicopters hit targets in north Sinai near the Rafah border crossing with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, witnesses said.
The army said nine ‘radical Islamists’ were killed on Saturday in north Sinai when it launched an air and ground offensive in which nine suspects were also arrested and three arms caches destroyed. On Saturday, security officials gave a toll of 10 killed, 20 wounded and 15 arrested.
Egypt’s state prosecutor said Sunday that Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie would stand trial in a second case over clashes in which several demonstrators were killed, judicial sources said.
Fourteen people, including several top figures in the Brotherhood, the group from which ousted president Mohamed Morsi hails, will stand trial along with Badie at a date that has yet to be decided, the sources added.
They are to be prosecuted in connection with the deaths of seven people on July 16 on the sidelines of a demonstration in Cairo calling for Morsi’s reinstatement.
Among those to be tried with him are senior Brotherhood member Mohammed al-Beltagui, Essam al-Erian, deputy head of its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, firebrand preacher Safwat Hegazy and Morsi’s supplies minister Bassem Ouda.
Badie’s first trial, on allegations of having incited the murder of anti-Morsi protesters, is due to resume on October 29.
Along with his two deputies, who are also in jail, he is also accused of involvement in the deaths of protesters who stormed and torched the Brotherhood headquarters on June 30 as millions took to the streets demanding Morsi’s resignation.
Since Morsi’s overthrow by the army on July 3 and his detention, more than 2,000 members of the Brotherhood have been arrested.
The military-backed interim government also launched a bloody crackdown on pro-Morsi protest camps in August, killing at least 1,000 people in one week, mostly backers of the toppled Islamist president but also dozens of policemen.
The military has been facing an insurgency in north Sinai, a haven for Al-Qaeda-inspired militants who have launched almost daily attacks against security forces in recent weeks.
Deadly violence has grown in the Sinai since former president Hosni Mubarak was toppled in massive popular protests in 2011.
The restive region has seen an increase in clashes between militants and security forces since the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on July 3 in a popularly backed coup.
For years Sinai has defied the central government’s authority with its Bedouin population complaining of poverty and discrimination.
The surge in militant attacks there and elsewhere around the country has raised fears of a revival of the Islamist insurgency that plagued Egypt in the 1990s.
The army on Tuesday launched intensive strikes in the Sinai which a security source described as the “biggest aerial assault of its kind” in the peninsula.
On August 19, militants killed 25 policemen in the Sinai, in the deadliest attack of its kind in years.
The army has killed around 100 Islamists in Sinai over the past two months when violence surged and the militants killed 58 policemen, 21 soldiers and 17 civilians in the region, according to an AFP tally.
The army meanwhile continued destroying smuggling tunnels to Gaza, with a security official saying on Sunday more than 90 percent of the tunnels have been destroyed.
The tunnels have been a lifeline for the flow of food, clothes, building materials and fuel into the impoverished territory, which Israel has blockaded since 2006.
In February, the Islamist movement Hamas, which governs Gaza, said it had closed hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling in Rafah.