Cairo - A divisive panel boycotted by liberals and Christians was set on Thursday to vote on a new draft Egyptian constitution, amid mounting protests over President Mohamed Morsi's assumption of sweeping powers.
Morsi insisted in a magazine interview on Wednesday that he will surrender his controversial new powers once a new constitution is in place, hoping to assuage the growing anger among people who thought their role in the Arab Spring nearly two years ago would bring a new era of democracy.
Morsi dismissed criticism of his power grab and said the protests on the streets of Cairo were a positive sign that Egypt is indeed on the path to democracy after overthrowing dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
"The world stage is very difficult. It's not easy to be on the world stage," admitted Morsi, who won a cliffhanger election in June, speaking briefly in English at the start of an interview with Time magazine.
"If we had a constitution, then all of what I have said or done last week will stop," he said, wiping his hands to stress his point. "I hope, when we have a constitution, what I have issued will stop immediately," he added.
Morsi's remarks amounted to a plea to the international community for patience after his decision to grant himself sweeping powers until the new constitution is ratified in a referendum.
Asked about warnings from critics that he wants to become a new pharaoh, Morsi repeated "New pharaoh?" disbelievingly, before letting out a big laugh. "Can I be?" he asked incredulously. "I've been suffering, personally."
The Islamist leader just last week gave the constituent assembly an additional two months to complete its work.
But as the top court went on strike over his power grab, the panel wrapped up its deliberations and readied for a vote among its members, its chief Ahmed Darrag said.
The official MENA news agency reported that the panel would vote on the draft on Thursday morning. It will then be put to a referendum.
The head of the Islamist-dominated panel, Hossam al-Gheriani, urged the liberal, leftist and Coptic Christian members who walked out to "come back and finish the discussion on Thursday".
"Tomorrow will be a great day," Gheriani said.
The surprise move came in the face of deep rifts over the constituent assembly, which critics have slammed for failing to represent all Egyptians.
Anger was exacerbated following the decree by Morsi granting himself sweeping powers and barring the courts from dissolving the panel.
The Supreme Constitutional Court had been due to review the legality of the drafting committee on Sunday, but its fate hangs in the balance amid the constitutional vacuum created by Morsi's decree.
Human rights groups have criticised the move to rush through the constitution.
"This is not a healthy moment to be pushing through a constitution because this is an extremely divisive moment," Human Rights Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef told AFP.