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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The future of Egypt’s Constituent Assembly is still unclear

Egyptian Constitution

The future of the second Egypt’s Constituent Assembly tasked with the drafting of the new Constitution is still unclear, as it can possibly repeat the fate of the first Assembly which was dissolved due to the ruling of HCC (High Constitutional Court).

The first Constituent Assembly was strongly dominated by Islamist forces, as it was formed by the parliament where the Muslim Brotherhood powers took the overwhelming majority of the seats. But the constitutional body included parliament members too which is illegal according to the Provisional Constitution issued by SCAF after 1971 Constitution was suspended as a result of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. It stated that the Lower House of Egypt’s parliament is also tasked with the forming of the Constituent Assembly, but the parliamentarians themselves cannot be elected. But the first Assembly was comprised of some parliament representatives, and there were serious fears among Egyptians, especially among liberal and leftist forces, that Muslim Brotherhood is seeking power and trying to dominate the constitutional body to have the chance to fully control the process of writing of the new constitution. It all sparked the worries about the Islamists’ attempts to turn Egypt into a religious state. A lot of representatives of liberal and leftist forces, such as Free Egyptians party, Egyptian Social-Democratic party, leftist Tagammu party, the Nasserist Karama party, The Socialist Popular Alliance party, the Democratic Front party and other political forces and some liberal individuals as well withdrew from the Constituent Assembly. Later the first Constituent Assembly was dissolved due to HCC ruling which declared this Assembly unconstitutional and illegitimate, as it included the members of Parliament.
Mohammed Hussein Tantawy, Head of SCAF

The second Constituent Assembly includes more representatives from all the factions of Egyptian political spectrum and society, but it still faces some of the problems of the first Assembly, such as parliamentary members elected again and Muslim Brotherhood domination, but not that strong as it was in the previous panel. There were series of withdrawals or boycotting the meetings by some of the members, so the second Constituent Assembly members received the SCAF’s ultimatum: either they will find the consensus and start the work or this body will be dissolved again and the new one will be appointed by SCAF, according to the provisional Constitution and to Constitutional Addendum issued by SCAF right before the presidential elections. And till now this second constitutional body is still at risk of dissolution, as it consists of some MPs. It can be also dissolved considering the fact that the People’s Assembly which selected the members of the Constituent Assembly was declared unconstitutional and the Lower House of Egypt’s parliament was dissolved. And this assembly is also accused of being Islamist dominated again.

Under such difficult and critical circumstances Egypt’s second Constituent Assembly is trying to work till now, with the meetings to be held almost every day and debating the chapters of the future state’s document. Egypt’s Constituent Assembly consists of several committees, each of them is entrusted with the drafting of a certain chapter of the Constitution (basic components; system of government; rights and liberties, public duties; supervisory agencies; proposals, dialogue and communication). Some of the articles are already drafted, such as the articles from the first chapter defining the nature of the state and the articles about the future status of Egypt’s armed forces as well. But some of those new articles proposed for the future constitution that were already made public in recent days met a lot of criticism from different political forces. One of the most controversial questions is the question of religion and the freedom of belief which is claimed to be violated in the proposed articles. Another point of debates and critics is the article dedicated to the right for protests and strikes, with the remark “in the accordance to the law”, which leaves it up to the legislative bodies to decide whether it is legitimate or not to strike. The same is about the forming and functioning of the syndicates. So the proposed articles are facing more and more criticism in the society and among the lawyers.
Waheed Abdel-Meguid, the spokesperson of Egypt's Constituent Assembly

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly’s official spokesperson Waheed Abdel-Meguid said in respond to all the critic that the articles made public are only proposals at the current stage which could be changed and has to be approved. According to him, the final draft of the Constitution will be finalized, voted and approved by the Constituent Assembly not earlier than in the middle of August. Then this draft has to be ratified by the national referendum and proclaimed official only after the approval, according to the terms of the Provisional Constitution issued by SCAF in March 2011 and to the SCAF’s Constitutional Addendum.

But in case the current Constituent Assembly will be also found unconstitutional by HCC and dissolved, the new one will be selected and appointed by SCAF, according to the aforementioned Constitutional Addendum issued in June 2012. The addendum also states, that President, Head of SCAF, Prime Minister, the Supreme Council of the Judiciary of a fifth of the Constituent Assembly has the right to veto any article proposed by the assembly.
Egypt's Parliament
So, as the future of the second Constituent Assembly is still unclear and it can be also dissolved if the Court will declare it also illegitimate, the Muslim Brotherhood as the majority of the Parliament, now dissolved, is trying to defend the legitimacy of this Constituent Assembly. The Islamists lawyers filed a petition to replace the judges of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) who are expected to rule the validity of the current Constituent Assembly and to give a verdict about its legitimacy. They claim the judges’ panel being biased, because they had previously ruled against the procedure of the forming of the first Assembly. There was the hearing of this petition in SAC on Monday, 30 July 2012, and the Court decided to adjourn the ruling over the Muslim Brotherhood’s petition till 24 September 2012. The reason for the delay in court was that the defense team needs more time for studying the case, and no additional reasons were mentioned except this one.

So the future of Egyptian Constituent Assembly remains unclear, and the constitutional body is working now in the really critical conditions facing the strong critics in the society, experiencing the disputes and lack of unity within the body itself and waiting for the Court ruling to decide the fate of the Assembly.