Divisions hit constituent assembly
A new 100-member constituent assembly has been formed. Will it last, asks Gamal Essam El-Din
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Fahmi, Shura Council speaker, and parliament speaker El-Katatni (r) during the two houses of parliament meeting to elect the 100 members of the constituent assembly in Cairo
On Tuesday the People's Assembly and Shura Council selected members of the 100-seat constituent assembly which will draft a new constitution despite the boycott of 60 liberal and left leaning MPs. They refused to take part in the meeting of the two houses which chose the members after accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of once more attempting to pack the assembly with its supporters.
Several high-profile liberal and leftist figures accused the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of employing the same tactics it used on 24 March in selecting the first constituent assembly, which was later dissolved by court order. Then, as now, the Brotherhood distributed a list among FJP MPs instructing them on which candidates they should vote for.
"The sole purpose of the list," said leftist MP Abul-Ezz El-Hariri, "was to seek to ensure that Islamist parties could impose their religious agenda on the constitution."
Five members of the liberal Wafd Party, 30 from the Free Egyptians Party and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party joined MPs from Revolution Continues bloc, the leftist Tagammu, the Nasserist Karama parties and independent deputies such as Amr Hamzawy and Amr El-Shobki in boycotting the joint session.
Al-Ahram political analyst and Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party member Emad Gad complained that "Islamists, led by the FJP, not content with half the assembly seats, moved to secure more places for their supporters at the expense of civil society." Muslim Brotherhood loyalists that FJP MPs were instructed to vote for include constitutional law professor Atef El-Banna, the chairmen of the syndicates of engineers and pharmacists and journalists, Islamist thinker Mohamed Emara and former presidential candidate Mohamed Selim El-Awwa.
In a surprise move the representative of the Supreme Constitutional Court opted to boycott Tuesday's meeting, arguing that "in the absence of any consensus participation is redundant".
FJP leaders responded by insisting that as the majority parliamentary party they had every right to maintain an upper hand and not give way to "minority dictatorship". Ahmed Fahmi, FJP chairman of Shura Council, defended the composition of the constituent assembly by pointing out that it includes seven women, 10 clerics from Al-Azhar University, eight Copts, 28 constitutional law professors, 10 intellectuals, 10 young people, seven representatives from professional syndicates and 30 university professors. He stressed that the chairmen of non-Islamist parties such as Ayman Nour, Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat and Mohamed El-Sawy had also been included alongside Emad Abdel-Ghafour, chairman of the Salafist Nour Party; Abul-Ela Madi, chairman of the Wasat Party, and Madi's deputy Essam Sultan.
Fahmi's figures did little to assuage concerns that 60 of the assembly's 100 members either belong to Islamist movements or have strong ties to them. The figure becomes even more worrying for non-Islamists given the maths. On Monday the FJP and Nour Party used their parliamentary majority to force through a law regulating the work of the constitution-drafting assembly, Article 5 of which stipulates that 57 members of the constituent assembly is the minimum required for any article of the constitution to be approved. The 11-article law also seeks to place the assembly beyond judicial appeals.
The law stipulates that a secretariat be formed to support the activities of the assembly and administer the financial and organisational aspects of its work once parliament endorses a budget and that the drafting of the constitution will be completed via hearing sessions to which non-member experts will be welcome to contribute.
More than 500 nominees applied to join the assembly. Among those who succeeded are the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) legal adviser Mamdouh Shahin, former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, chairman of the Syndicate of Lawyers Sameh Ashour, Minister of Justice Adel Abdel-Hamid, former chairman of the Police Academy Emad Hussein (serving as the Ministry of Interior representative) and Nasr Farid Wassel (an Al-Azhar representative).
The newly born assembly might face the same fate as its predecessor. The High Administrative Court suspended the constituent assembly on 10 April after finding in favour of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the assembly's formation on the grounds that it was unrepresentative.
SCAF has said that should attempts to finalise the constituent assembly fail it will promulgate an annex to the Constitutional Declaration.