By Heather Moore
CAIRO: With its first session scheduled for Tuesday, experts are divided over the future of the Shoura Council, with some expecting it to have more power and others seeing it being abolished completely.
The power of the Shoura Council is currently the same as it was under the former regime. The new constitution is expected to re-evaluate the council’s role.
Although he believes the Shoura Council will not last, former member of the Shoura Council and political science professor at Cairo University, Mostafa Elwi Saif, said the new constitution could result in a much stronger council.
“In 2007, one constitutional amendment gave the council legislative powers. Now, it’s not clear if they will be a legislative body or not. If it’s not going to be a legislative council, there’s no need to have it in Egypt. If it has political powers, it should help the People’s Assembly exercise the legislative powers in a good manner. If it’s not going to have legislative powers, they People’s Assembly could do the job alone,” he explained.
Hala Mostafa, press office manager for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, also predicts the Shoura Council will be abolished in the new constitution because she believes it’s too costly and not necessary.
“Especially after the revolution, there was a lot of talk that they were going to cancel the Shoura. Even the revolutionaries said they don’t want a Shoura Council. We just want to have a strong parliament and that’s it,” she said.
“A lot of Egyptian people do not even know what Shoura Council does. They just meet every two weeks for three sessions and that’s it.”
On the other hand, Abdel Ghaffar Salheen, a newly elected Freedom and Justice Party member to the Shoura Council, believes otherwise.
“We, as Shoura Council candidates didn’t enter the race in order to keep the Shoura Council with its weak authorities. We see that Egypt, after Jan. 25, deserves as much as all of the civilized and democratic countries — a bi-chamber council with complementing functions regarding legislation and regulation. We will tell the constitution committee that we will not accept a weak Shoura Council. Either a respectable second chamber council, or we’ll cancel it,” he said.
Of the 270 seats in the Shoura Council, 180 (two-thirds) are elected. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won 105 seats. The Salafi Al-Nour Party won 45. Together, the Islamist parties won nearly 87 percent of the elected Shoura Council positions.
The upper house of parliament was initially established as an advisory committee. Since a constitutional amendment in 2007, the Shoura Council has had limited legislative powers.
The Shoura Council has 270 members while the People’s Assembly has 508. It is scheduled to hold its first session on Feb. 28.
In cooperation with the People’s Assembly, the two houses of parliament will appoint the constitutional committee.
The voter turnout at the Shoura Council elections was low. According to the head of the Supreme Electoral Commission Abdel Moez Ibrahim, the turnout in voting was not more than 10 percent.
Mustafa Kamel Sayed, political science professor at Cairo University, claimed that many voters assumed Islamist parties would win. He said this is one of the reasons they didn’t see the point in going out to vote.
“It is possible people aren’t voting because they weren’t happy with the results of the first [People’s Assembly’s] election.”
Despite ideological differences, Mostafa, from the Egyptian Social Democratic Party’s press office, said she is hopeful of the new government’s success. “I guess the Muslim Brotherhood are not going to be very conservative about this,” she said.
Saif said Islamist parties taking majorities in government is becoming more common all across the Arab region and that there is no reason to worry about that. He said, “They are much more organized than the other parties. Even before the revolutions, they have been well organized and they have good public grounds with the people all over the streets. They are not elitist… So this is why they have got such a strong vote.”
Saif has a few ideas of how the Shoura Council should change. Under the former regime, the speaker of the Shoura Council, Safwat El-Sherif, was also the head of the Supreme Council of the Press.
“We shouldn’t have the speaker of the assembly presiding over such a council. It should be independent,” Saif said.
The constitutional committee will be formed to begin drafting a new constitution over the next few months.