Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

An Islamist fit

Horse trading between Islamists sees the controversial election law passed by the Shura Council, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

After two days of debate amendments to two laws regulating parliamentary elections and the exercise of political rights were passed by the Islamist-dominated Shura Council on 19 January. The amendments were sent the next day to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) for review. Article 177 of the constitution gives the SCC 45 days to vet political laws.

Sobhi Saleh, deputy chairman of the Shura Council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee and a leading official of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said he hopes the SCC will rule over whether the law is constitutional early next week. Article 229 of the new constitution, says Salah, states that “preparations for parliamentary elections must begin within 60 days of the constitution going into effect”.

“We hope that the law will be vetted by the SCC as soon as possible so that the election procedures begin within the period designed by the constitution.”

Maher Sami, the SCC’s deputy chairman, said on Sunday that “the SCC should not be in any hurry but must thoroughly vet the law”.

“If any article of the law is ruled unconstitutional the Shura Council will be obliged to amend it before the 60-day period expires.”

If ruled constitutional the law will be ratified by the president and the door for the registration for candidates opened.

Changes to the two election laws — Law 38/1972 on the People’s Assembly and Law 73/1956 on the exercise of political rights — have caused dissension between Islamists and civilian forces. Islamists — including the FJP and ultraconservative Salafist parties — also locked horns over several articles, with Salafis walking out of a session on 17 January in protest at the “FJP’s insistence to tailor the law to serve its needs”.

Ahmed Fahmi, chairman of Shura Council and a leading FJP member, was forced to adjourn the session to 19 January. When the council met on Saturday it was soon clear that Islamist factions had worked a deal. Civilian forces — including Copts — were left unsatisfied, though this did not prevent Fahmi claiming the law had gained consensus nationally.

Islamists differed over the stipulation that political parties place at least one woman in the first half candidate lists. They were, however, in agreement over their rejection of fixing a quota of seats for Copts.

FJP MPs backtracked over the earlier draft that a woman candidate be included in the top half of the list, finally agreeing, under Salafist pressure, that “each list must include at least one female candidate” without mentioning where her name should appear.

Abdallah Badran, parliamentary spokesperson of the Salafist Nour Party, said “the constitution rejects the principle of quotas outright and if a quota is reserved to women the law will be ruled unconstitutional.”

Badran threatened that Salafis would vote against the article unless the stipulation that women candidates appear in the first half of party lists was removed.

The government insisted the original text did not violate the constitution. Omar Sherif, deputy justice minister for legislative affairs, pointed out that “Article 10 of the constitution states that the state gives special care and protection for women,” and argued that “not placing women on the first half of the list of candidates means that they will have little chance to win.”

Copts on the council insisted they were opposed to fixed quotas for any sectors of society. Instead, said Mamdouh Ramzi, a Coptic lawyer, “we want Article 3 [Paragraph 5] to be amended to state that each list must include at least one candidate belonging to politically marginalised groups.”

“This would not privilege any sector while at the same it opens a window for political parties to field Copts or women towards the top of their candidate lists.”

The amendment was rejected outright by Islamists. Ramzi and Rami Lakah, another Coptic MP, said the deal between Islamists now means Copts will have little, if any, representation in the new parliament.

The biggest clash between Islamist factions, however, erupted over Paragraph 1 of Article 3. Salafi MPs insisted that the article remain unchanged so that MPs who change their partisan or independent affiliations after they join parliament can be stripped of their parliamentary membership. The FJP refused to give in to Salafist pressure this time, insisting that the article be amended to give MPs the right to change political affiliation. In the final vote, 121 deputies favoured changing the government-drafted article, while 84 — mostly Salafis — were opposed.

Essam Al-Erian, the Shura Council’s FJP majority leader, said “any change of the article, as Salafis wanted, could have caused political parties to explode from within.” Salafis and representatives of liberal forces — especially the Wafd Party — argued that the amended article takes Egypt back to the days when the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) coopted independents to its ranks to gain a majority.

Nour Party official Amr Mekki accused the FJP of tailoring the election law to serve its own interests.

“The FJP intends to field a lot of supposedly independent candidates who will then rejoin its ranks in parliament once elected,” he said.

The council also voted against allocating a quota of seats to Egyptians working abroad, redrawing electoral districts and increasing the number of MPs from 498 to 564.

In line with Article 231 of the constitution the council approved stipulations that two thirds of the House of Representatives be elected on the basis of party lists and one third by individual candidacy. The law opted for 46 electoral districts to be reserved for competition among party-based candidates and 83 to be allocated to individual candidates.

The FJP surprised many by pressing for the inclusion of a clause stating that Egyptians born to Egyptian parents but who hold another nationality be allowed to stand for parliament. The FJP’s Al-Erian defended the provision, arguing that “there are no fears that Egyptians with Israeli nationality could exploit this article to penetrate parliament.”

In a press conference on 19 January Al-Erian argued that the article “is in line with the constitution which allows Egyptians with dual nationality the right to stand in elections”. 

“I do not think that citizens will vote for a candidate holding a dual nationality, and the Supreme Elections Committee will take charge of overseeing the registration process to make sure candidates are born to Egyptian parents,” he said.

Salafis and the Wafd voted against the article.

Islamists joined hands in voting for Article 7 which strips NDP leading officials of standing in parliamentary and presidential elections, in accordance with the constitution. The article states that “officials who were leading members of the NDP on 25 January 2011, members of its secretariat-general; political bureau; policies committee; or were NDP members of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council during the two legislative chapters preceding the revolution (2005-2010 and 2010-2011) are stripped of taking part in any political activities or standing in parliamentary and presidential election for 10 years from the date the constitution was promulgated.”

Islamists and civil forces also agreed that Article 3 (Paragraph 6) be amended to allow anyone detained for political reasons to register as a candidate.

The council also approved that the election be held on two days, and that the Court of Cassation be given the final say on appeals filed against election results.

Meanwhile, on 21 January, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, resigned from a committee tasked with reaching common ground between President Mohamed Morsi and the National Salvation Front.

“I resigned after the FJP violated the national dialogue on the election law and used its deputies in the Shura Council to tailor it to their needs,” said Al-Sadat. “The lesson I learned from my participation in this dialogue, sponsored by President Morsi, is that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted. It works solely to promote its own interests.”

Ayman Nour, chairman of the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra party, also announced that he would not participate in any further dialogue sponsored by Morsi. “Morsi’s FJP MPs violated their national dialogue commitments and forced an election law serving their own partisan agenda,” he said.

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