Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Less haste, more speed

The Shura Council got into trouble after steamrolling the election laws. Now it has done the same with the amendments demanded by the Supreme Constitutional Court, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

After a two hour debate on 21 February the Islamist-dominated Shura Council approved amendments to Law 38/1972 on the People’s Assembly and Law 73/1956 on the exercise of political rights. The changes were ratified by President Mohamed Morsi on the same day, paving the way for parliamentary elections.

The Shura Council rushed through the controversial legislation in order to comply with Article 229 of the equally controversial constitution. It states that parliamentary elections must open 60 days of the ratification of the new national charter which Morsi ratified on 25 December.

The Shura Council’s Islamist majority, led by Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member and Shura Chairman Ahmed Fahmi, rubber-stamped the amendments. Fahmi refused to put the changes to a vote on the grounds that “this would take time and our duty is to make sure that the amendments conform with the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court [SCC].” He added that “the only thing we need to vote on is the re-drawing of electoral districts because this was not part of the two election laws.”

Fahmi’s steamrolling tactics angered the secular opposition which argued that the rushed legislation fell short of meeting SCC requirements.

Mohamed Mohieddin, an appointed MP representing the liberal Ghad Al-Thawra Party, warned that “the council’s amendments violate Article 177 of the new constitution which states that election draft laws must be scrutinised by the SCC before they go into effect.”

“The Shura Council,” he added, “is obliged to refer its amendments back to SCC for a final OK”.

According to Sobhi Saleh, FJP deputy chairman of the Shura Council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Shura Council’s amendments fully comply with the SCC’s ruling on the original legislation. It is an opinion with which deputy of justice minister Omar Al-Sherif disagrees. “The amendments engineered by Saleh”, said Al-Sherif, “failed to meet the SCC’s requirements on a number of counts.”

Al-Sherif warned that “while the SCC had ruled that anyone who failed to perform military service for national security reasons must be stripped of standing in elections Saleh added a stipulation that citizens cannot be stripped of exercising their political rights — including running in parliamentary elections — unless under final judicial orders.”

“Some citizens,” argued Saleh, “especially those who were affiliated to militant Islamist movements — were detained under orders from former president Hosni Mubarak’s State Security Apparatus rather than under final judicial rulings.”

“The former regime engaged in a ferocious war against the opposition — be they Islamists or secularists — which means most political activists were detained for security reasons under arbitrary administrative orders rather than judicial rulings at one time or another and as a result were unable to perform military service.”

“If we implement the SCC’s ruling verbatim all political activists under the former regime would be stripped of participating in parliamentary life and this would be a complete injustice.”

Al-Sherif again differed with Saleh, stressing that “when the SCC reviewed this article, they insisted citizens detained for security reasons in general — either under final judicial rulings or under administrative police orders — and who had consequently been unable to undertake military service were ineligible to take a seat in parliament”. “Note,” Al-Sherif added, “that the court refrained from stating that there must be a final judicial ruling”.

Secular forces also accuse Saleh of failing to comply with the SCC’s judgement on redrawing electoral districts. Rami Lakah, an appointed Christian MP, said Saleh was seeking to draw election boundaries along “sectarian lines rather than in the public interest”.

“The Christian-dominated district of Shubra,” Lakah said, “has been split in two with the halves added to two other districts to dilute the Christian vote”.

Appointed Coptic MP Kamal Ramzi said the only reason the Shubra constituency boundaries were redrawn in such a way was to neutralise the Christian vote.

Wafdist MP Salah Al-Sayegh said the FJP was tailoring electoral districts to serve the interests of Muslim Brotherhood. “As with the constitution, so with election boundaries: it is the Brotherhood that has the final say,” claimed Al-Sayegh.

Wafd Party’s parliamentary spokesman Mohamed Abul-Enein announced he would organise a sit-in to protest against “the arbitrary re-drawing of districts”. Abdallah Badran, spokesman of the Salafist Nour Party, charged that the unfair re-distribution of electoral “opens the door for the constitutionality of amendments to be questioned yet again. He accused the Ministry of Local Administration — led by Muslim Brotherhood official Mohamed Ali Bishr — of redrawing boundaries in violation of Article 133 of the constitution. “The boundaries were re-adjusted to serve the interests of one faction, and we know which faction it is,” said Badran.

Ahmed Shaaban, representative of the Local Administration Ministry, argued that the new boundaries met all constitutional requirements. They create 48 new seats across six governorates, 12 in Cairo, 12 in Giza and six in Alexandria, Sharqiya, Qalioubiya and Aswan.

Saleh said the SCC ruling identified 12 areas of concern “and we were keen to implement the court’s decisions in a very honest way”.

He indicated that the definition of worker and farmer candidates in parliamentary elections had been amended to comply with the SCC’s ruling. The amended Article 2 of the 1972 law now states that “a farmer is someone who has been involved in agricultural activities over at least 10 years, a worker someone employed by others against payment or salary.”

Article 3 (Paragraph 1) was also amended to state that MPs who change their definition (from worker to farmer or vice versa) or their political affiliation, standing as independents then joining a party or vice versa, must be stripped of their parliamentary membership.

Article 3 (Paragraph 6), Saleh revealed, had been amended to state that “when independents or party-based candidates aim to run on one ticket it must clearly state the political affiliation of each candidate. Article 5 was also amended to state that candidates in general elections must be Egyptians entitled to hold their complete political and civilian rights rather than stating only that candidates must be Egyptians.

The changes now place supervising and monitoring the voting of Egyptians outside Egypt in the hands of state judges rather than the diplomatic corps. They grant the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC) full rights in supervising and monitoring parliamentary polls, beginning with candidate registration and ending with the announcement of the results. The SEC is also empowered to select which civil society organisation and media representatives will be allowed to observe the vote, the elections. SEC will also take all the measures necessary to make sure that citizens do not vote twice, especially if the election or referendum is held over two days.

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