September 22, 2018

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  • Rocky road to constitution

    Egypt's PA was divided over the criteria governing the formation of the constituent assembly.

    BY HEBA FAHMY

    Cairo: For months Egypt’s political parties struggled to reach consensus over the formation of the 100-member constituent assembly responsible for drafting the country’s first post-Mubarak constitution. Despite the objections of 10 political parties, which briefly threatened to upend the process once more, the panel was elected Tuesday.

    Only days before the presidential election runoff, when Islamist head of the Freedom and Justice Party Mohamed Morsi will contest the highest executive office against a stalwart supporter of the Mubarak regime, the party which holds the biggest block in parliament is facing criticism for once more attempting to dominate the assembly.

    The breakthrough was reached following an ultimatum by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which threatened to intervene by amending the relevant Article 60 of last year’s constitutional declaration (the interim constitution) or by reactivating the 1971 constitution, infamous for giving Mubarak ultimate power, unless the PA reached an agreement within 48 hours.

    The initial constituent assembly selected by parliament in March was met with a wave of disapproval against the domination of Islamists who took close to 70 percent of the seats.

    Liberal and leftist parties walked out in protest, followed by Al-Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt, which later announced their boycott of the assembly.

    Pundits had claimed that the FJP was deliberately obstructing consensus over the formation of the assembly until election results are out and until a final verdict is reached in a case that may delegitimize parliament altogether.

    On Thursday the Supreme Constitutional Court could uphold a lower court ruling that the law governing parliamentary elections was unconstitutional, which could either lead to the dissolution of parliament or a partial repeat of the election. It is unclear in this case if the elected constituent assembly would still be valid, especially since some liberal forces have already initiated court cases to annul the assembly.

    Detractors have once again objected to the lack of representativeness of the proposed composition. Liberal MP Amr Hamzawy on a local TV show slammed “the over-representation of political parties” to the detriment of the representation of women and minorities amid a wider spectrum of Egyptians, as well as the contrived division between Islamist and non-Islamist powers as the framework for the criteria.

    On the other hand, Islamists claim that their political rivals are intentionally spearheading an organized smear campaign to ruin the image of the Islamist parliamentary majority.

    To complicate matters, the anticipated president will take office with no constitution to regulate his powers, a point that many believe is a threat to Egypt’s “democratic transition.”

    “Having a president without a constitution only increases the state of uncertainty in an already murky transitional period,” professor of electoral systems at Cairo University Mazen Hassan told The Egypt Monocle.

    The panel

    PA speaker Saad El-Katatny announced the results of the vote Tuesday night, which saw an 84.4 percent turnout of elected People’s Assembly and Shoura Council MPs. Sixty MPs representing non-Islamist currents boycotted the vote.

    It was agreed that Islamists will select 50 percent of the assembly members, with the rest to be chosen by non-Islamist political currents.

    The final selection, according to El-Katatny, includes nine constitutional law experts, six representatives of various judicial bodies, five from Al-Azhar, four representing Egypt’s four churches, seven from professional syndicates, four workers and farmers, 33 representatives of eight political parties, one each representing the police force, the armed forces and the government and 29 youth and public figures.

    The panel includes seven women and 10 writers, intellectuals and creative artists as well as eight Copts.

    Prominent members of the assembly include former presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Mohamed Selim El Awwa, MPs Wahid Abdel Meguid, Essam El-Erian, Mohamed El-Beltagi and Mohamed El-Sawy, Essam Sultan, political science professors Manar El-Shorbagy and Moataz Abdel Fattah, poet Farouk Goweida and former Mufti Nasr Farid Wassel, Nubian rights activist Manal El-Tibi and Priest Safwat Naguib.

    Backlash

    In a joint statement, several parties and independent MPs said the 50-50 split between Islamist and non-Islamist powers was skewed. State institutions, such as the Al-Azhar, the church and the judicial authorities, were given 21 percent of the seats, chipping away from the 50 percent allocated to non-Islamists. The remaining 29 percent include Islamist parties, the statement added, including the moderate Al-Wasat and the ultraconservative Building and Development Party.

    The Tagammu Party, the Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the independent MPs that signed the statement had relinquished their partisan seats in favor of a more balanced representation of the diversity of Egyptian society.

    At least 67 percent must vote in favor of an article in order for it to be approved. If that percentage is not reached then at least 57 percent must approve it within 48 hours, otherwise it will be excluded.

    Experts have criticized the fact that according to the constitutional declaration, the new charter must be written within six months of convening the assembly.

    Lawyer and professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, Raafat Fouda, believes that this shaky consensus is long overdue.

    “Political powers have been more occupied with their personal narrow interests than the country’s and that’s why it has taken so long to elect the assembly…normally this would have taken a couple of days,” Fouda told The Egypt Monocle.

    Battles ahead

    The FJP’s controversial, and at times turbulent relationship with SCAF has taken its toll on the perception of the group as a revolutionary force, especially with the PA’s failure to remove a military-backed cabinet and the group’s decision to field a presidential candidate despite vowing not to do so in the early days of the transition.

    Liberal and leftist parties argue that Brotherhood-dominated legislative and executive authorities would give the Islamist group ultimate power and take the country down the path of other strict Islamic regimes.

    Constitutional experts say that the constitutional decree issued by SCAF last year will continue to regulate the president’s powers until a new constitution is drafted, but fears that Morsi might win the runoff are slowly galvanizing support against the current formation.

    Fouda argued that several articles have been added and amended in the constitutional decree diminishing the “pharaoh-like powers” given to Mubarak.

    These include Article 29, which caps presidential terms at four years and sets a maximum of two terms.  Article 31 also compels the president to assign a vice president within 30 days of taking office.

    Yet the interim constitution does not address issues such as whether the president can dissolve parliament or declare war, or who would take over if the president dies before he names a vice.

    But these articles have done little to address concerns that the new president will influence the writing of the new constitution expected to set the tone for a new democratic Egypt, not feed the new president’s hunger for power.

    “The president will have a direct mandate from the people and it’s only natural that he will use that to get involved in deciding his own jurisdiction,” Mazen said.

    Fouda disagreed saying that according to the law, the president should not have a final say over writing the constitution.

    “The constituent assembly is the only authority that has the jurisdiction to write the new constitution,” Fouda said. “The assembly can take advice from executive powers including the president as the elected representative of the people but his opinion is entirely advisory.”

    The cultural and religious identity of Egypt are also at stake with the writing of the new charter. Non-Islamists fear that an Islamist-dominated assembly will entrench religion in politics, especially with suggestions to change Article 2 of the 1971 constitution which stipulates that the principles of Sharia are one of the primary sources of legislation, by removing the word “principles,” which leaves the article wide open to interpretation.

    Salafi and FJP MPs have, on their part, repeatedly denied such claims, stressing that Al-Azhar is the only point of reference for legislative disputes involving religion. –The Egypt Monocle

     

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