The impasse over writing a new constitution continues despite feverish attempts to come up with a formula acceptable to the key political players, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
Attempts this week by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and the People's Assembly to resolve the deadlock over forming a new constituent assembly to draft Egypt's first post-Mubarak constitution ended in failure.
SCAF deputy chairman Chief of Staff Sami Anan met on Sunday with a number of professors of constitutional law and deans of law faculties to discuss both the formation of a new constituent assembly and next month's presidential election. Anan probed the possibility of using the 1971 constitution to act as an interim regulatory framework should a new president be elected without a new constitution being ready, an idea that was quickly quashed. It would be preferable, said the legal experts at the meeting, to amend last year's interim constitutional declaration.
"New amendments can be introduced to the constitutional declaration to strike a better balance between the legislative and executive authorities," suggested professor Mohamed Nour Farahat. Articles could also be introduced to settle differences between parliament and the government in cases where they disagree over legislation.
In an attempt to defuse the increasingly bitter row over Article 28 of the constitutional declaration Farahat proposed a special judicial council take charge of settling complaints filed by presidential candidates. "The council will be obliged to settle petitions within two weeks, and its judgements will be binding," he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is opposed to any revival of the 1971 constitution which, says Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Hussein, "grants such sweeping powers to the president that it makes him a pharaoh".
Hussein announced that the Brotherhood would be participating in the demonstration called for Friday in a bid to increase pressure on SCAF to transfer power to a civilian administration by the end of June.
Meanwhile, the People's Assembly's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee held its own hearings on the formation of a new constituent assembly. On Sunday the committee invited leading constitutional law professors, including Kamal Abul-Magd, Atef El-Banna and Nour Farahat, to speak.
In the wake of the 10 April Administrative Court ruling dissolving the Islamist dominated assembly that the majority Islamist parties had pushed through, Abul-Magd said the current impasse could only be negotiated by MPs putting aside partisan concerns in favour of the national interest.
"If Islamist forces continue to insist that because they won a parliamentary majority they must also dominate the constituent assembly then progress will be impossible," he said. "Islamists must assuage liberal suspicions that they are seeking to impose their will on the new constitution in order to break the deadlock."
"Political forces must rise above partisan interests," said Farahat, who recommended that the constituent assembly include experts on constitutional law alongside representatives of political parties.
Following the committee's Monday's meeting, attended by the heads of eight political parties, Ayman Nour, chairman of Ghad Al-Thawra, complained that it was nothing more than a talking shop.
"We attended the meeting because we thought it was serious about formulating concrete proposals. Instead we found it was limited to reviewing opinions," he said.
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) subsequently joined the fray with its own proposals on who should join the constituent assembly. NCHR Secretary-General Hafez Abu Seada recommended the 100-member assembly include 15 professors of constitutional law, five professors of political science, four representatives from Al-Azhar and representatives from Egypt's Christian churches. NCHR also proposed allocating 15 seats to intellectuals and representatives of cultural organisations.
"We also suggest that 10 seats be reserved for representatives selected by professional syndicates and six seats for the chambers of commerce, industry and tourism," said Abu Seada. The NCHR also proposed that parliamentarians be excluded from the assembly "to ensure impartiality".
The latter suggestion drew the wrath of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). FJP MP Sobhi Saleh, who serves as deputy chairman of the Constitutional Committee, insisted that the party is open to all proposals to resolve the current deadlock except excluding parliamentarians.
"We want to reach consensus but not to the extent of excluding MPs," said Saleh.
Sources within the FJP suggest that the party might compromise on 20 parliamentary members joining the constituent assembly, 15 from the People's Assembly and five from the Shura Council, including the speakers of the two houses of parliament and their four deputies.