A Closer Look at Egypt’s Shura Council and its First Week with Legislative Power

Shura AP.jpg

With legislative power now officially in the hands of the Shura Council, or the Upper House of Parliament, and 90 new members appointed to the state body, several pressing issues have come to the forefront of the political landscape.

As Judge and EgyptSource contributor Yussef Auf points out, the Shura Council was elected with a 7% voter turnout, and has now been granted full legislative power until a new parliament is elected. He adds that the Shura Council was elected by voters under one pretext, and is now operating under another, which is viewed as a breach of representative democracy.

With a total of 279 members in the Shura Council, a third of them are appointed by the president, following nominations made by the National Dialogue Committee (NDC). The NDC was formed by President Mohamed Morsi in the midst of increasing political tensions during the first session of national dialogue called for by the president. The NDC is chaired by Dr. Mohamed Selim al-Awa, with Abu Ela Madi serving as its rapporteur. Both Islamist politicians, their names also appeared on the final list for Shura Council members presented to and approved by Morsi.

According to presidential spokesman Yasser Ali, the final list included members of 17 political parties, 8 women, 12 Coptic Christians, 3 retired military generals, as well as constitutional and legal experts, and representatives of Egypt’s churches (8), al-Azhar (5) and two representing citizens injured during the revolution.  It also included members from several Islamist parties – 3 from the Salafi Nour Party, 9 from al-Wasat Party and 3 from the Building and Development Party, the Jama’a Islamiya’s political arm as well as 13 from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). With the new nominations, it brings the number of Islamist members in the Shura Council up to 180, out of a total of 279.  The 90 appointed members also include among them former members of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting Egypt’s constitution.

Members of the opposition group, the National Salvation Front, among them Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabbahi, were allegedly not nominated for positions within the Shura Council due to their own refusal to participate in the process. 

The full list of nominated Shura Council members can be viewed here.

Who are some of the new members?

Dr. Mohamed Selim al-Awa: Former presidential candidate, and an Islamist politician; Abu Ela Madi: Head of the Islamist Wasat Party; Dr. Essam al-Erian: Vice President of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP); Sobhi Saleh: A leading member of the FJP; Dr. Gamal Gibril: Head of the Constituent Assembly’s political systems committee; Ramadan Batikh: A member of the Constituent Assembly;  Dr. Manar Shorbagy: Professor of Political Science and former director of the American Studies Center at the American University in Cairo. She was a member of the Constituent Assembly but was one of many who resigned in the wake of Morsi’s controversial November 21 Decree; Amr Khaled: Head of the ‘Egypt’ (Misr) Party and moderate Islamist preacher; Adel Afifi: Head of the Salafi ‘Authenticity’ Party; Safwat Abdel Ghani: A member of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya. He was detained in 1981 in connection with Anwar Sadat’s assassination but was released a few years later without charges being brought against him. He served a 5 year sentence in connection with the assassination of parliament speaker, Refaat al-Mahgoub in the 1990s; Younis Makhioun: Member of the Salafi Nour Party and was a member of the dissolved parliament; Safwat al-Bayadi: Head of the Evangelical Church in Egypt; Dr. Tharwat Badawi: Constitutional expert and professor of constitutional law at Cairo University. Was a member of the Constituent Assembly; Abdel-Diyam Mohamed Nossair: An adviser to al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb; Dr. Nasr Farid Wassel: A Sheikh at al-Azhar and former grand Mufti of Egypt and was a member of the Constituent Assembly; Mohammed Mohieldin: A professor of engineering and was a member of the Constituent Assembly; Khairi Abdel Dayem: Former head of the Doctor’s Syndicate and was a member of the Constituent Assembly; Mouncif Naguib Suliman: A judge, a member of the Church’s general congregation council and was a member of the Constituent Assembly; Mamdouh Al-Wali: Head of the Journalists Syndicate; Adel Morsi: A retired Major General and former Chief of Military Justice; Mohamed Sobhi: A prominent Egyptian actor;  Mona Makram Ebeid: A Christian political science professor, politician and member of the National Council for Human Rights, she was a member of the Constituent Assembly before residing in March 2012; Rami Lakah: A French-Egyptian Greek Catholic businessman and a member of the Reform and Development party

Shura Council Issues: Amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Law

Discussed at the sixth national dialogue session, chaired by former Vice President Mahmoud Mekki, several amendments to Egypt’s parliamentary elections law are to be presented to the Shura Council’s legislative committee and Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki.

Key changes in the latest draft of the amendments are as follows:

  • Based on Article 231 of the new constitution: “The first legislative elections following the adoption of this Constitution shall be held in the following manner: Two-thirds of the seats are to be won by a list-based electoral system and one-third by individual candidacy, with parties and independent candidates allowed to run in each.”
  • The House of Representatives will consist of 498 seats.
  • Party lists must include at least one female candidate, appearing on the first half of the list.
  • Party lists can include both independents and party members, but must consist of a fixed number of candidates.
  • Vote counting and result announcements will take place in secondary polling stations.

While the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) is backing the amendments, several of the amendments have been rejected by other political forces.

The main cause for concern revolves around the amendment which allows for the one-third/two-third division for candidacy. Politicians have criticized the law, stating that it allows for a repetition of Mubarak-era electoral tactics, where wealthy candidates stand a better chance of winning.

The vote counting-related amendment, an FJP recommendation, was rejected by the National Salvation Front (NSF). The NSF views the amendments, in general, as leaning in favor of an Islamist victory in the upcoming elections. The NSF also criticized the decision not to criminalize (rather than ban) the use of places of worship during the electoral campaign, as well as the decision not to place a financial limit on campaigning.  

The Salafi Nour Party has expressed its objection to the stipulation to list at least one female candidate.

Amr Moussa criticized the draft law, stating that it does not guarantee judicial supervision of elections.

Another source of conflict regarding the draft elections law has been over the status of Coptic Christians. Mamdouh Ramzy, one of the 90 appointed Shura Council members has called for implementing the ‘Christian seat’ model in use in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, setting one seat aside for Christian candidates in each party list. Nour Party member Osama Fikry rejected the suggestion on the grounds that it would “deepen divides between Muslims and Christians.”

Hisham Qandil has stated that the parliamentary election law is to be submitted to the Constitutional Court for review within 15 days of the ratification of the new constitution, later adding that the cabinet would finalize the law for the Shura Council’s review by January 6.

Shura Council Issues: Protest Law

The Shura Council is also set to discuss a new law regulating protests, one which has been the subject of harsh criticism. The law, consisting of 26 articles, stipulates, amongst other things, the following:

The Ministry of Interior must be notified of a protest 3 days in advance. Information to be provided to the Ministry includes the duration, place and reasons for the protest, and they can only take place between 7am and 7pm. The authorities have the right to refuse permission, as well as to determine the routes of protests and marches. The law also adds that governorates must allocate specific locations for protests in an effort to ensure that traffic is not impeded.

A representative will be appointed to supervise protests, while security forces are granted permission to forcefully disperse protests (using water cannons, tear gas, batons and prods) that are “harmful to national interests,” and to search protesters without a warrant.

Like the constitution, the protest law suffers from vaguely worded articles that are open to interpretation, with one article stating that protests cannot contravene “public morals.”

Shura Council Issues: Sukuk Law

The Shura Council supported al-Azhar’s rejection of a Sukuk (or Islamic Bonds that are compliant with Sharia) law drafted by the government,  that would have allowed foreigners to own Islamic Bonds. It has since threatened to draft the bill itself if the Finance Ministry delays the process.

According to Egypt Independent, the Shura Council’s Economic Committee has already drafted a law to be presented to the Cabinet, provided as an alternative to a law drafted by the FJP and Nour Parties. Speaking about the draft law, committee chairman, Mohamed al-Fiqi said, “Ours combines the pros and avoids the cons of the other drafts,” adding that control and supervision of the bonds would come under the purview of the Prime Minister and Finance Ministry.  

The draft law will regulate the issuance and transactions of Islamic bonds. According to the law, they can be issued by corporations and banks, but the issuance is subject to prior approval by the Central Bank of Egypt. An Islamic Supervision Committee, consisting of three registered experts, as determined by Dar al-Ifta, will have the right to determine if the bond is Sharia-compliant.  The law allows for 9 types of Sukuk.

Islamic bonds are viewed by some, including the FJP and Shura Council, as a potential means of reducing Egypt’s budget deficit.

Photo: AP

Image: Shura%20AP.jpg