Egyptians have been awaiting a vote within the Islamist-majority assembly drafting the country's new constitution but boycotted by dissenters. Embattled president Mohamed Morsi was then due to fix a referendum date.
Egypt's constitutional assembly - minus some 14 of its original 100 members, notably liberals and Christians - said it had finished drafting the text overnight Wednesday.
Democracy activists said it would only make matters worse while Morsi's Islamist backers said a referendum would defuse widespread protests over the president's seizure of powers by decree last week.
Anti-Morsi protestors remained camped on Cairo's Tahrir Square Thursday, demanding that the president cancel his decrees that negated judicial oversight.
His Islamist allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have called protests for Saturday on the same square, setting the stage for more confrontation.
An assembly member from the Salafi Nour Party, Talaat Marzouk said the drive toward a constitution referendum would defuse tensions.
"The constitution is in its last phases and will be put to a referendum soon and God willing it will solve a lot of the problems in the street," Marzouk said.
Essam al-Erian, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member and advisor to Morsi, said the panel "would begin voting today [Thursday]" on the draft.
Assembly's behavior disputed
Opposition activists and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa slammed the assembly's machinations.
"This is nonsensical and one of the steps that shouldn't be taken, given the background of anger and resentment to the current constitution assembly," Moussa told Reuters in an interview.
He was one of the secularist-leaning delegates who walked out of the constitutional assembly in recent weeks, claiming that Islamists were not open to a pluralist approach.
Under Egypt's time-plan, a new constitution must be in place before a new parliament can be elected. Speculation on when that will take place is focused on early 2013.
Morsi defends intervention
Morsi has held both executive and legislative powers since June when Egypt's constitutional court invalidated the previous Islamist-led parliament.
In an interview with Time magazine on Wednesday, Morsi insisted that he would surrender his controversial new powers once the new constitution was in place.
The assembly drafting it has said the legislative powers assumed by Morsi would be handed to a Shura Council, or upper house of parliament.
ipj/mz (AFP, dpa, Reuters)