By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Secular forces slammed Tuesday the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, pushing to continue the struggle for a more inclusive assembly that represents all Egyptians.
The Free Egyptians, the Social Democrats, the Popular Alliance Socialist Party and many independents complained about the control of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis who, they claim, aim to draft a “constitution of their own.”
“We are not gathered here to express narrow party affiliations because parties come and go while Egypt is eternal,” head of the Free Egyptians Party Ahmed Saeid said Monday in a press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate.
“We will continue our struggle with all possible legal and political techniques to change this assembly until we reach a balanced representation of all Egyptian currents,” he added.
The assembly, which is made up of 50 MPs and 50 members from outside parliament, is tasked with drafting the new constitution. It will hold its first meeting on March 28.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafi Al-Nour garnered around 75 percent of the 50 percent allocated to lawmakers, while dominating about 40 percent of the other half of the assembly.
In total, this gives Islamists almost 60 percent of the Constituent Assembly, which includes only five women and six Copts.
The state-run media outlet said the final list of 100 members, announced at around 3 am on Sunday, matched a list distributed during the vote by the FJP, which was reportedly in agreement with Al-Nour Party.
The final results were almost identical to this list, which provoked other MPs and political powers who claimed there was prior consensus between the FJP and Al-Nour, which together hold two-thirds of parliamentary seats.
However, Osama Soliman, an FJP MP, told Egypt 25 TV channel that “the distributed list was a guiding one to all MPs in the voting process, in an effort to introduce a large number of candidates from all political streams, especially those we coordinated with regarding the members of the assembly. But, it wasn’t for FJP and Al-Nour MPs only.”
Head of the parliamentary bloc of the Social Democratic Party, lawmaker Ziad Bahaa El-Din, said that withdrawing from the assembly was their last option as they opposed “the way the Constituent Assembly was elected and the criteria for choosing its members, which excluded much-needed expertise.”
“We not only aim to change the formation of the assembly, because it is not about the formation, but also the way candidates were chosen,” said the lawmaker.
Possible SCAF intervention
Head of the Lawyers Syndicate Sameh Ashour, who also walked out, called on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to intervene by drafting another constitutional declaration that clearly outlines the criteria for choosing the Constituent Assembly, in a move that triggered fierce debate.
“We are paying the price of the wrong direction we took from the beginning when we chose the path of elections first. SCAF is responsible for putting us back on the right track,” Ashour said.
However, Head of the Popular Alliance Socialist Party, Abdel Ghaffar Shokr slammed SCAF and rejected calls for its intervention. He declared the party’s withdrawal from a meeting between political parties and SCAF on the same day to discuss the political deadlock.
“This meeting reflects the power conflict between SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood and we should not resort to any of them; we should only resort to the Egyptian people,” Shokr said.
Independent liberal lawmaker Amr Hamzawy, who also withdrew from the Constituent Assembly, reiterated Shokr’s argument, agreeing that resorting to SCAF would be the wrong path.
“I withdrew not in protest at the dominance of Islamist forces, because naturally the parliamentary majority should be represented in the assembly, but because the parliamentary majority favored loyalty [to the Islamist current] over professionalism while choosing the members,” he said.
“The final formation also failed to represent the diverse social groups. I refuse to be in an assembly that does not include Nubians and Bedouins, Copts, women and members of independent labor syndicates,” he added.
Salafi lawmaker Yassir Salah El-Kady too slammed the stance of the Islamist current he belongs to, saying that political forces favored personal over national interests.
“There is a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF, and SCAF put us in this situation. The constitutional declaration should be amended,” he said.
Member of the Social Democratic Party Mona Makram Ebeid, who withdrew from the assembly, slammed the lack of representation of women and all political and social currents.
Constitutional law professor Mohamed Nour Farahat said that four main issues are under threat by the current formation of the panel: the civil nature of the Egyptian state, the status of women and minorities, general rights and freedoms, and the rotation of power.
“The future of a state marked by equality and freedoms is in great danger if we leave it to one faction, particularly while excluding a large number of efficient constitutional and legal experts who helped draft the constitutions of Iraq, Libya, the UAE and Kuwait.”
Activist Ahmed Harara, who lost both eyes during the violence of the uprising, and withdrew from the assembly, called it a “farce;” while former finance minister Hazem El-Biblawy who also withdrew criticized the panel.
Civil society and women
Head of the writers’ union Mohamed Salmawy spoke out against the lack of writers and novelists on the panel.
“The stance of the writers union was clear from the very beginning. We refused the idea that MPs be represented in the assembly and said that unions and syndicates should be represented with a good percentage.”
“We nominated more than 10 people to represent us in the assembly, but they chose none. We refuse this ominous assembly and we will work to bring it down and topple a PA that has proven that it doesn’t represent Egyptians.”
Head of the Cairo Center of Human Rights Studies Bahei El Din Hassan, asserted that “the road to Taliban starts here by legislating laws and a constitution for a religious state at the hands of the religious majority.”
On her part, Mervat El-Tellawy, head of the National Council for Women, said the constitution should be for all Egyptians and not for a single faction with a majority.
“The current representation of women in the assembly is embarrassing and shameful to Egypt,” she said.
“Everything that comes out of such an assembly is null and void. With the exclusion of constitutional experts we feel that their intentions are not good,” she added.
Solutions and alternatives
Hamzawy proposed that the formation of the assembly be reconsidered without any intervention from SCAF through an attempt to build consensus between all political forces, including Islamists.
“After restructuring the assembly, the decision-making mechanism inside the assembly must be through a two-thirds majority vote not an absolute majority of 50+1, to guarantee wider consensus between the forces that will draft the constitution,” Hamzawy said.
He said that the assembly should coordinate with the Supreme Constitutional Court to ensure the adherence of the new constitution to international covenants to which Egypt is a signatory.
Lawmaker representing Al-Wafd Party Moustafa El-Guindy said that there are serious attempts to form a “parallel” assembly.
“After rigging the vote in the 2010 parliamentary elections we formed a parallel parliament, now we will form a parallel assembly including all the social and political currents to draft a constitution for all Egyptians,” El-Guindy said.
Board member of the Journalists’ Syndicate Gamal Fahmy listed the names of the members who withdrew from the committee: Ahmed Saeid, Bahei El-Din Hassan, Sameh Ashour, Abdel Ghafar Shokr, Amr Hamzawy, Mona Makram Ebaid, Ahmed Harara, Hazem El-Biblawy, Al-Wafd Party MP Margret Azer, El-Karama MP Saad Abboud, independent MP Amr El-Chobbaki, Free Egyptians MP Emad Gad, economist Ahmed Sayed El-Naggar, head of the Social Democratic Party Mohamed Aboul Ghar, political science professor Rabab El-Mahdy, Deputy Governor of Cairo Samir Morkos, head of the Middle East Institute for Law and Development Hany Sarei El-Din, and member of the Popular Alliance Socialist Party Moustafa Kamel El-Sayed.