By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Egypt’s politicians were concerned over what they perceived as intentions to postpone the long-awaited presidential election, after the head of the ruling military council insisted Sunday that a new constitution be drafted first.
The presidential election is slated for May 23-24, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised to hand over power to a civilian authority by July 1, in a transition already seen as prolonged and mismanaged.
Members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, met Sunday with heads of 17 political parties with parliamentary representation. These included the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Salafi Al-Nour Party, the liberal Al-Wafd as well as a number of MPs, who discussed with the army generals the Constituent Assembly stalemate.
The assembly is tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
Tantawi reportedly said in the meeting, according to MP Mostafa Bakry, that the presidential election will not be held before a new constitution is drafted to set the authorities of the president.
“This is suspicious and indicates that there is an intention to postpone the election,” Hassan Nafea, political science professor at Cairo University, told Daily News Egypt.
MP Hatem Azzam from the Civilization Party described this as “playing with fire.”
“Whenever it’s time to hand over power, there seems to be unrest to handle or intention to hand it [power] with certain terms,” he said on his Facebook account.
The centrist Al-Adl Party said talk of drafting the constitution first opens the door for an indefinite postponement of the presidential election.
“We totally refuse that because it will lead to chaos that threatens the security of the state,” the party said in a statement.
“The party denounces what has been leaked in media that there is a possibility to form a presidential council instead of the presidential election. If true, this would be a coup against the democratic path, particularly since the people will not accept to be ruled by someone who they did not elect by their free will,” it added.
Bakry, who attended the meeting with SCAF and is reportedly close to the ruling generals, said Sunday in a phone-in with CBC TV channel that if the constitution is not completed before June 30, there are several options, including a temporary president for a year or two or a presidential council.
However, MP Mostafa Al-Naggar, of Al-Adl, denounced the idea of a presidential council. “Being leaked in the media now, this idea is uncomfortable and worrying,” he wrote on Twitter account, stressing the importance of sticking to the current date of the presidential election.
Nafea said that the political situation is still vague. But if this is true, he added, it means that the SCAF is looking for alternatives to handing over power.
Presidential candidate Amr Moussa said on his Twitter account that it has been agreed to separate the course of the presidential election from that of drafting the constitution, “particularly since a long time has been wasted without writing a constitution.”
Al-Naggar urged the MB to agree with other powers on the criteria of the formation of the assembly, “or else the country will be handed over [to civilian rule] in the unknown future.”
The Administrative Court of the State Council issued a ruling last week invalidating parliament’s decision regarding the makeup of the Constituent Assembly.
The ruling halted the implementation of the decision of the Islamist-dominated parliament to evenly divide the composition of the assembly between MPs and public figures. The 50-50 split of assembly members from inside and outside parliament was widely deplored by liberal and secular-leaning political parties, Al-Azhar, the Church, representatives of the judiciary and other prestigious institutions.
SCAF members, lawmakers and heads of political parties will meet again on April 22 to determine more specific selection criteria for members of the panel.
Al-Sayed Al-Badawy, head of Al-Wafd, said in a joint press conference with the other leaders after Sunday’s meeting that the FJP was flexible regarding resolving the stalemate even before the ruling was issued.
“The insistence to implement the court ruling is a good indication for the coming period. The flexibility of Islamists to accept a different composition of the assembly is also a good sign, but they should hurry up and set the selection criteria for the panel’s members, who might be all from outside parliament,” said Nafea, who was a member of the SCAF-appointed Advisory Council before quitting last February.
In the conference, Emad Abdel Ghafour, head of Al-Nour, also alluded to the possibility that the 100 members of the assembly may all be from outside parliament, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported.
FJP MP Mohamed El-Beltagy said in a statement that selecting all the members from outside parliament is an unjustified, drastic shift from including representatives from both houses of parliament to their total exclusion.
A number of party leaders participating in the conference said, according to MENA, that the formation of the committee will be subject to discussions during the meetings to be held in the coming days.
“I hope these meetings of representatives from parliamentary parties would succeed in reaching an agreement without the need to refer to the military council,” El-Beltagy said, adding that this issue is, constitutionally, the parliament’s specialization.