Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 June - 6 July 2011
Issue No. 1054
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Opposing camps

The tug-of-war between Islamists and youth movements over the mass protest called for 8 July promises to be fierce, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

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A mass protest is expected on 8 July

A mass protest by youth movements is planed for 8 July, with demonstrators vowing to stay in Tahrir Square until the Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) bows to their demands, including drafting a new constitution ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in September.

On the Facebook page "The Second Revolution of Anger", sponsored by the Union of Revolutionary Youth (URY), activists argue that the basic rights and freedoms that were the goals of the Egyptian revolution have not yet been secured.

"To all Egyptian political forces debating which should come first, constitution or elections, we say save the revolution first, save Egypt first. Our revolution is collapsing," warned one post on the page.

The page succeeded in mobilising hundreds of thousands of protesters for a "second day of anger" protest on 27 May despite Islamist groups, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, boycotting the demonstration.

By Saturday the Wafd, Tagammu and Nasserist parties had announced that they would participate in the protest.

Tagammu spokesman Nabil Zaki said the party was participating in Friday's protest because it believed holding the elections before a new constitution is drafted would lead to the Muslim Brotherhood controlling parliament.

Mustafa El-Tawil, a leading member of the Wafd, said his party's alliance with the Brotherhood would not prevent it from continuing to demand that a new constitution precedes elections.

A majority of youth movements and political parties, including the 6 April Movement and Youth Revolution Coalition (YRC), have announced that they will take part in the 8 July protest, though they will be pressing different demands.

The Sixth of April movement announced on Monday that they will be pushing for a speedy trial of the Mubaraks, the prosecution of police officers and officials involved in killing protesters and an increase in the minimum wage from LE700 to LE1,200.

The Karama, Wafd and Tagammu parties are all calling for the delay of parliamentary elections until a new constitution is drafted.

"To oversee the drafting of a new constitution we suggest the HCAF choose 100 experts and put their names to a referendum for the public to approve or disapprove," said Mohamed El-Bayoumi, a leading figure in the Karama Party.

YRC leaders argue that the priority should be on ensuring freedom of expression, the public trial of those found guilty of killing protesters and an end to military trials of civilians.

Last week the Freedom Front for Peaceful Change (FFPC) began a campaign, "Constitution First", that aims to collect 15 million signatures in support of the drafting of a new constitution.

The FFPC media coordinator Essam El-Sherif says the campaign has already collected three million signatures. The petition, written by 47 legal experts, demands the formation of a constitutional committee including representatives from across the political spectrum.

A clear strategy to press for a new constitution ahead of elections has emerged since 27 May protests. It has gained support in government circles.

Last week interim Prime minister Essam Sharaf said he favoured delaying parliamentary elections to allow newly established political parties more time to prepare, while Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal and Minister of Culture Emad Abu Ghazi have both said they favour a new constitution being drawn up before parliamentary elections.

El-Gamal said in an interview broadcast on Al-Hayat that supporting the constitution first option did not contradict with the results of last March's referendum on constitutional amendments.

Over the last two weeks Islamist groups have accused their secular opponents of ignoring the March referendum in which a majority of Egyptians voted for nine constitutional amendments. According to Article 60 of the constitutional amendments it is up to the newly elected parliament to form 100-member constitutional committee to draft a new constitution.

"This is clear manipulation and shows disrespect for the will of the Egyptian people," says Muslim Brotherhood member Ahmed Abu Baraka. "They voted in March for parliamentary elections to be held first and then a constitution to be drafted."

The Salafist group Al-Daawa Al-Salafia issued a statement warning citizens against joining the protest on 8 July and criticising the "Constitution First" campaign which planned to allow an unelected committee to draft the constitution.

Wasat Party Vice Chairman Essam Sultan accused El-Gamal of hypocrisy, pointing out that he was "among those who voted yes for the constitutional amendments".

Presidential candidate and prominent Islamist figure Mohamed Selim El-Awwa also criticised Prime Minister Sharaf and El-Gamal for opposing the referendum results.

Former Arab League chief and presidential candidate Amr Moussa believes that presidential elections should be held first, writing on his Twitter account that "if we have a president with limited powers based on the constitutional declaration, he can regulate and organise the coming critical period".

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