Story highlights

NEW: U.S. expresses concern over protest restrictions

Lawmakers are voting on a draft constitution item-by-item

Preamble talks about democracy and equality

Meanwhile, demonstrations over an anti-protest law continue

CNN  — 

Egyptian lawmakers Saturday began the painstaking process of approving a draft of a new constitution.

The new charter aims to enshrine democracy in equality in Egypt, even as demonstrators were in the streets to fight against a law that restricts protests.

The 50-member committee of lawmakers working on the new constitution unanimously approved the draft’s preamble. The members will vote on each of the 246 draft articles item-by-item, the state-run al-Ahram Online reported.

The proceedings, which are being televised, will take at least 24 hours.

The new constitution will replace the one that was suspended in 2011, al-Ahram reported.

Security forces, meanwhile, dispersed protesters who were demonstrating against Egypt’s anti-protest law.

In a statement, the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday called his Egyptian counterpart, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to express, among other things, concerns over the law restricting demonstrations and protests.

Hagel told al-Sisi that Egypt’s response to free expression will demonstrate the interim government’s commitment to a non-violent democratic transition, the statement said.

Protesters and security forces were throwing stones at each other, al-Ahram reported. The protesters said they planned to turn themselves in for staging the demonstration, but wanted to show that they are willing to defy the law.

“Put on your white track suit, so they’d know we are ready to turn ourselves in but we will not be broken by a repressive law that bars protesting,” the organizers said on their official Facebook page, according to al-Ahram.

They were demanding protection for those who have been “tortured and humiliated for only taking part in a protest against military trials for civilians in the constitution.”