Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1154, (27 June - 3 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

A year of legal chaos

President Mohamed Morsi’s — and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood’s — first year in office saw a raft of bungled legislation, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Two weeks before Mohamed Morsi took office as president of Egypt the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ordered the dissolution of parliament on the grounds that the law governing the election of members — a majority of whom were from the Muslim Brotherhood — was unconstitutional. Two weeks into his term of office Morsi recalled the dissolved parliament. Morsi was quickly forced to backtrack after opposition voices grew louder, yet his attempt to reconvene the People’s Assembly was, in itself, a significant moment. It showed, they said, that he was still in thrall to the Brotherhood and would promote a partisan agenda above national interests.

Realising that he could not recall the People’s Assembly in the face of legal opposition, Morsi’s next move was to decree that legislative power would reside in the president’s office until a new constitution was promulgated and fresh parliamentary elections held.

On 22 November Morsi issued a bombshell decree. He sacked the Mubarak-appointed prosecutor-general Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid and appointed Talaat Abdallah in his place. He placed both the Shura Council and the constitution-drafting Constituent Assembly beyond judicial reach, decreeing neither could be dissolved on legal grounds. His own decisions were similarly immunised, and he announced he would transfer his legislative powers to the Shura Council, which contained an Islamist majority elected by a tiny fraction of registered voters. The constitution-drafting assembly subsequently endorsed the Shura Council being granted full legislative power until a new House of Representatives (the re-named People’s Assembly) could be elected. After an 18-hour session on 28 and 29 November 2012 the Islamist dominated Constituent Assembly endorsed its own draft constitution, Article 230 of which stated that the Shura Council would take charge of legislation in the absence of a House of Representatives.

Two days later Muslim Brotherhood cadres laid siege to the SCC, closing down the courtroom and effectively preventing any order to dissolve the Shura Council which had been elected under the same unconstitutional law as the People’s Assembly. On 15 and 22 December the draft constitution was approved in a referendum, though the vote attracted a far lower turnout than parliamentary elections, making the Shura Council’s legislative monopoly a fait accompli.

Such manoeuvring confirmed the suspicions of the non-Islamist opposition that Morsi was intent on promoting a partisan agenda and his inauguration promises to be a president for all Egyptians were empty rhetoric. They questioned how an upper house elected by just 6.5 per cent of registered voters could be granted legislative power. The scene was set for even greater polarisation between Morsi’s Islamist supporters and those who felt religion should be kept out of politics.

Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, responded by claiming they would take the utmost care to ensure consensus in exercising their legislative powers. Yet on 24 December Morsi appointed 90 MPs to the Shura Council, the majority drawn from Islamist forces, further consolidating Islamist control of the council whose chairman, Ahmed Fahmi, is not only a leading official of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) but an in-law of the president.

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the liberal-oriented Reform and Development Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly, as soon as “the Islamist-led council was granted legislative power it opted to exercise these powers to settle accounts with the secular opposition rather than focus on issuing a new election law to prepare the ground for House of Representatives elections.”

Al-Sadat cites draft laws aimed at restricting the right to protest, form NGOs and reduce the retirement age of judges from 70 to 60 as examples of the council’s arbitrary use of its legislative monopoly. “And when it did get around to drafting an election law,” says Al-Sadat, “the Shura Council displayed a willful incompetence. The SCC twice ruled the council’s amendments of election legislation unconstitutional.”

The two laws regulating exercise of political rights and the performance of the House of Representatives were first amended by the Shura Council last January. When the SCC ruled several articles unconstitutional the council re-amended them without referring them back to the SCC for review. Morsi then announced the door was open for candidate registration. An appeal with the Administrative Court was launched by secular activists against the two laws. Within a week the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the door for candidate registration could not be opened “because the president of the republic had endorsed the two laws without seeking the prior approval of the cabinet as required by the constitution”.

Rather than re-amend the election laws, the Shura Council then decided to rewrite them completely. On 11 April the two new laws were ratified by the Shura Council only to be judged unconstitutional by the SCC on 25 May.

“After a year of Morsi in office Egypt is bogged down in a legislative swamp,” says Al-Sadat. “The Brotherhood is following the example of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. It has tuned parliament into a rubber stamp that, rather than overseeing and revising legislation, merely agrees to whatever the Brotherhood wants. As a result the Shura Council has played a major role in Egypt’s worsening political crisis.”

Essam Al-Erian, parliamentary spokesman of the FJP, denies that the Shura Council has become a legislative tool to be used against secular opposition.

“Most of the laws passed by the council have been aimed at improving the living conditions of the majority,” he told the Weekly. “They include tax exemptions for those on limited incomes and the new sukuk [Islamic bonds] law to facilitate the funding of mega-development projects.”

In debating the new budget, Al-Erian said the Shura Council had exercised “great supervisory powers to eliminate corruption in government circles and misappropriation of public funds”.

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