By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Elected MPs of both houses of parliament are to hold a joint meeting Saturday to agree on the final criteria for electing members of the Constituent Assembly that would draft the constitution in accordance with the 353 proposals received so far.
By March 8, the parliament’s general secretariat had gathered all the proposals made by MPs, NGOs, professional syndicates and trade unions for the selection criteria that aim to be representative of all sectors of society.
The first joint session of the elected MPs of the People’s Assembly and the Shoura Council decided on March 3 to assign the secretariat to sort and classify all the proposals made by MPs and non-MPs on the criteria for the selection of the assembly.
The 353 sorted proposals comprise nine suggestions for the selection of the 100 members of the assembly to be from outside the parliament. According to the secretariat, seven of these suggestions were submitted by MPs including Marianne Malak and Abdullah Al-Maghazi.
Thirty-nine proposals stated that the membership of the assembly should be limited to MPs, including 19 proposals by MPs and 20 by non-MPs.
Another suggestion to include both MPs and non-MPs in the assembly was submitted through 322 proposals; 113 of which are by MPs and 29 by non-MPs. These proposals, although agreed in principle, varied in the suggested percentages of representation of either MPs or non-parliamentarians.
Various political streams have been embroiled in a debate about the interpretation of Article 60 of the constitutional declaration, which states that the MPs should elect members of the constituent assembly to draft the constitution within six months and then call for a referendum within 15 days.
According to the interpretation of Islamists, who obtained the lion’s share of both houses of the parliament, MPs should dominate the assembly pointing out that citizens have already elected them for this task.
“If that’s what the constitutional declaration meant, then it should have stated that the entire parliament should draft the constitution instead of electing 100 members,” argued Gamal Fahmy, outspoken analyst and board member of the Journalists’ Syndicate.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which holds around 47 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly, suggested that 40 of the 100-member assembly be MPs.
On the other hand, liberals and leftists derived legal arguments that would prevent MPs, mainly Islamists, from taking over a majority in the assembly, citing an alleged conflict of interests if MPs took a large portion of the assembly.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, an analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, previously told Daily News Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood is determined to have the largest share in drafting the constitution.
“I believe the only thing that would determine the criteria of the assembly’s members is what the MB agrees upon with the military council outside parliament,” he said.
After deciding on the criteria, elected MPs of both houses will meet again on March 24 to elect the 100 members of the Constituent Assembly after a week of societal dialogue on the proposed criteria.
The upcoming debate
Members of the assembly would then draft Egypt’s new constitution, with expected political arguments on a number of topics. The expected debate on social and political issues is already fueling and reflected in the ongoing discussions about the selection criteria.
Tamer Mostafa, author of the first paper to be published under the new Brookings Doha Center-Stanford Project on Arab Transitions, identified the most important issues to be tackled by the country’s Constituent Assembly.
The paper stated that while constitution writing must be an organic process, the international community should work to ensure that Egypt’s military does not entrench a role for itself in domestic governance.
Acting in a “unilateral” and “opaque manner,” SCAF has continually changed the rules of political transition to suit its own evolving interests, it said.
“Having proposed a series of amendments to Egypt’s 1971 constitution, in which the public’s only input was a simple up-down vote, SCAF overrode the national referendum with its Constitutional Declaration of March 2011. It then attempted to impose guidelines for the drafting of the constitution that would preserve its interests, through the infamous ‘Selmy document,’ before bowing to popular pressure,” Mostafa argued.
The then-prime minister deputy, Ali El-Selmy had put together last year a document with broad constitutional concepts regarding the identity and freedoms. The document also included criteria for selecting the assembly members that guaranteed representation of state institutions rather than sectors of society. The part that galvanized protests against it was two articles that would have given the military a special legal status that would shield it from budget oversight.
“The framework guiding the constitution drafting process remains mired in uncertainty a full year after the fall of president Hosni Mubarak,” Mostafa added.
Focusing on questions that range from the place of Islamic law to women’s rights to the role of the military, Mostafa offered recommendations on how each area should be addressed.
He argued that while Article two of the previous constitution — stipulating that Islamic Sharia is the principle source of legislation — will likely remain unchanged, liberals should push for vigorous constitutional guarantees protecting liberal rights and equality of citizenship.
However, he said, language that guarantees “special rights” for different religious communities should be avoided. “Such wording tends to strengthen religious institutions at the expense of women’s rights in particular.”
As for the institutions of governance, he said the focus should be on how to reduce the powers of the presidency to prevent the emergence of another unconstrained executive. These efforts should include measures to restrain the president’s unilateral powers of appointment.
“The yet-to-be drafted constitution should better specify the conditions under which a state of emergency can be declared. Further, it should set a maximum term for which the state of emergency can last, and should limit its application to the parts of the country that are affected,” he added.
He stressed that it was critical for the new constitution to outline specific safeguards for preserving judicial independence and detail mechanisms for judicial administration, discipline and budgets rather than being specified in enabling legislation.
It added that the new constitution must detail fundamental rights, many of them already present in the 1971 Constitution.
With constitution drafting yet to begin in Libya and the possibility of further transitions in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere in the region, policymakers should study the Egyptian case as a cautionary tale of how not to initiate a constitution writing process, he said.