Tarek al-Bishry, the chairman of the constitutional panel, is a respected judge who criticised former president Hosni Mubarak and is regarded as moderate in his views. But he has been associated with Al-Wasat, an offshoot of the Brotherhood.
He has selected a committee made up mainly of judges and politicians, including a judge who is a Coptic Christian, but also a former Muslim Brotherhood MP. There are no women.
Wael Abbas, the best-known human rights blogger in Egypt, who was sentenced to prison by the Mubarak regime last year, said it was a “worrying” choice.
“There is no such thing as a moderate Islamist,” he said. “We want a secular state that respects all religions and which belongs to all religions.”
Mr Mubarak banned the Muslim Brotherhood and often warned that his regime was a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism, a claim repeatedly attacked by protesters on Tahrir Square in the days leading up to his removal from office.
The Brotherhood has said it does not intend to put forward a candidate at presidential elections, and does not want to institute Islamic rule, as in Iran. But it yesterday said it was in the process of forming a political party to represent its views in parliament.
In another sign of increased freedoms for Islamists, the Gama’a Islamiya, the radical group responsible for a wave of terror attacks in the 1990s, held a public meeting in a town in southern Egypt on Monday night, according to a local newspaper, Al-Masry al-Youm.
When the Supreme Military Council was formed to take over Mr Mubarak’s duties last week, the role of Lt Gen Sami Enan, the chief of staff, was immediately welcomed by the Muslim Brotherhood – as well as by the United States, which said it regarded him as very “professional”.
But the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just ten days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.
“Al-Bishry is a figure who is accepted by all Egyptians,” said Aboul Ella al-Madi, leader of Al-Wasat. “He has criticised the Coptic Church but he has also criticised the Muslim Brotherhood and the former regime.
“The military council consulted widely before appointing him, and he had consensus support.”
But Bishop Markos, a member of the Coptic Church’s Holy Syndicate, said no one from the Military Council had been in touch since it came to power.
He said: “We do not know the result of this but we hope the committee will be wise enough to take into account the rights of all Egyptians.”
Mr Abbas said protesters had wanted to see an end to Article 2 of the Constitution and that it was now clear the constitution would only be amended, not totally reformed.
“Islamists being on the committee is not going to help that,” he said. “We want equality for all Egyptians, including Christians, Jews, Bahais, and those who consider themselves atheists.
“The army seems to have made some sort of deal with the Muslim Brotherhood.”