[JURIST] The Egyptian Parliament Monday passed a set of 34 amendments [JURIST report] to the country's constitution [text], despite criticism [JURIST report] from opposition leaders that the reforms are a step backward for democracy. The amendments were endorsed by 315 of 454 seats in parliament and members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood [official website; FAS backgrounder], the largest opposition group in Egypt, took credit for the majority of the "no" votes. Critics say Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; JURIST news archive] is using the amendments to clear the way for his son to assume the presidency when he steps down. The constitutional changes will prohibit any party from being formed based on religion and mandates any future presidential candidates to be from a party holding at least 3 percent of parliamentary seats. The Muslim Brotherhood [JURIST news archive], whose members run as independents in legislative elections, has charged that the amendments are specifically aimed at preventing them from gaining more control in the country's government.
Another of the controversial amendments allows the president to refer terrorist crimes to a judicial authority, which has been interpreted by critics as allowing the president to use military courts which render unappealable decisions. Rights group Amnesty International [advocacy website] specifically condemned the anti-terrorism law [press release], calling the amendments the "greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years." The amendments will now be submitted to the people of Egypt [JURIST news archive] in a referendum vote that is expected to take place next Monday, pushed up from the original date of April 4. Opponents have called the expedited timeframe an attempt to quash any rallies to voice opposition to the amendments. AP has more. Reuters has additional coverage.