Constitution by numbers

As parliament decides who can and cannot draft the new constitution many liberal noses will be left out of joint – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Essam El-Din, 22 – 28 March 2012.

… In a joint session on 17 March the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) abandoned its earlier position – which had been welcomed by many liberal forces – that the CA comprise 40 parliamentarians and 60 non- parliamentarians, shifting instead to a 50/50 option … //

… It was left to presidential hopeful Abul-Ezz El-Hariri to state the obvious: that the 50/50 option was bound to fan fears that the Constituent Assembly would display sectarian bias. 

“Islamist forces, with their many divisions, do not represent the majority,” said El-Hariri. “How can a minority — irrespective of how many MPs they command — take charge of drafting the constitution?”

Farid Ismail, FJP senior official and deputy chairman of the assembly’s Defence and National Security Committee, pushed the compromise line. “Some political parties exaggerated their demands for MP representation on the Constituent Assembly. The Nour Party demanded 60 MPs while the Reconstruction and Development Party [the political arm of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya] suggested 70. The FJP changed to a 50/ 50 rather than 40/60 option in order to reconcile the different views of our counterparts in parliament.”

There were, or course, other positions which the FJP resolutely ignored. Salafi firebrand MP Mamdouh Ismail proposed the CA comprise only parliamentarians, while Karama Party MP Saad Abboud pointed out that “most of Egypt’s former constitutions, including those of 1923 and 1971, were drafted without parliamentarians being involved.”

Independent MP Mohamed Khalifa Tellawi suggested — reasonably enough — that parliamentary membership was a far less important qualification for drafting a new constitution than expertise and proven record of competence.

But the deal is done. Parliamentary sources say the FJP and Nour Party have agreed that 15 FJP deputies from the People’s Assembly, five FJP members from the Shura Council, seven Nour Party deputies from the People’s Assembly and three from the Shura Council will sit on the Constituent Assembly. The Wafd Party will be represented by four People’s Assembly deputies and one Shura Council member, with the 15 remaining places for parliamentarians divided between MPs from other parties and independents.

A joint committee of the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council will meet today, Thursday, to agree on the 50 public figures who will make up the rest of the assembly.

“It is sad to see the FJP retreat from the 40/60 option,” tweeted Adl Party founder MP Mustafa El-Naggar. “We supported the 40/60 division as the best way to ensure all sectors of society were represented when it came to writing the constitution.

MP Amr Hamzawy had proposed that the CA contain no more than 35 MPs, arguing that any more would carry with it the threat of parliamentary — for which read Islamist — hegemony.

The Free Egyptians Party had gone further, suggesting only 20 of the assembly’s 100 members be drawn from parliament.

MP Mustafa El-Guindi had argued that MPs be excluded from the CA altogether, a position the leftist Tagammu Party supported. Tagammu spokesman Nabil Zaki said “the party is in favour of excluding parliamentarians from the assembly so as to prevent it being dominated by Islamists”, and added that the Tagammu would ask its members not to join if asked.

Presidential hopeful Amr Moussa urged the two houses of parliament to relinquish the 50/50 option.

“It has caused very negative reactions already and I am afraid it will only exacerbate political polarisation,” said Moussa. “MPs should place the national interest above all other considerations.”

“It is incredible that a religious group should seek to impose its will on the new constitution,” says SCC deputy chair Tahani El-Gibali. “Surely everyone knows that a constitution must reflect a consensus of all forces in society.”

The 17 March joint session also discussed procedures for selecting the 50 MPs who will draft the constitution. MPs, it was decided, could nominate themselves or a colleague. The names of nominees will be put to a vote on Saturday, with those receiving the most support gaining a place on the CA.

The non-parliamentarian members of the CA will also be decided on Saturday. The names of nominees must first be forwarded to the technical parliamentary committee. Nominees will then be required to secure 50 per cent plus one of the votes of the two houses.

An additional 20 parliamentarians and 20 non- parliamentarians will also be selected to replace any members of the CA who for reasons of health cannot attend the drafting sessions. (full text).

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