Egypt’s Constitutional Meltdown: Take 2


Just twenty-four hours after the passage of a new draft law meant to facilitate the formation of Egypt’s 100-member Constituent Assembly, liberals and leftists are accusing Islamists of monopolizing the constitution-writing process for a second time. The first attempt at forming a Constituent Assembly in March fell through after a walkout by non-Islamist and minority representatives who felt they were badly underrepresented. Now, Parliament insists that the selection of the Constituent Assembly will go forward as planned on May 12, but its legitimacy is already in jeopardy.

Last week, the SCAF issued a 48-hour ultimatum that forced political forces to reach a fragile compromise on new criteria for selecting a more balanced and diverse assembly, to include a 50-50 ratio of Islamists to non-Islamists. But on May 11, the liberal and leftist parties belonging to the Egyptian Bloc coalition announced they would forfeit their seats on the assembly to additional female, Christian and youth representatives in protest of the overrepresentation of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Nour Party.

Although the compromise reached last week implied that the assembly would include equal numbers of Islamists and non-Islamists, the former claimed on May 11 that the 50-50 ratio only applied to the 39 sitting MPs on the assembly, meaning that Islamists were also eligible for the professional quota seats reserved for constitutional scholars, union representatives, and public figures, among others.  Adding to the inflation of the Islamist bloc, two parties that ran on religious platforms – the Wasat Party and al-Gama’a al-Islamiya’s Building and Development Party – claimed that they are not religious-based parties, and therefore should be counted as part of the “civil” bloc, along with the state’s official Islamic institution, al-Azhar.  Non-Islamist parties also object to the inclusion of quotas for other official state institutions – the police, the armed forces, and the ministry of justice—in the civil bloc, which takes away from the seats available to leftists and liberals.

The draft law passed by Parliament to regulate the Constituent Assembly has added to the confusion by failing to clarify the numerical quotas and criteria supposedly agreed upon in the compromise last week. Although the law requires that the new Constituent Assembly be “be representative of all segments of Egyptian society to the fullest extent possible,” the ambiguous legislation does not shed any light on the interpretation of the 50-50 compromise between Islamists and non-Islamists. Does it apply only to the 39 sitting MPs on the assembly, or to all 100 members? If the former, Islamists are likely to obtain a majority on the assembly once again by nominated FJP or Salafi-affiliated members to fill the quota seats for professionals, youth, public figures, and state institutions.

Non-Islamists are also considered about a provision in the draft law that gives the Constituent Assembly a special status as a “legal entity independent of all state institutions and agencies.” Adl Party MP Mostafa al-Naggar has rejected the law and warned that this provision could immunize the assembly from judiciary oversight and appeals to its decisions.

Amr Hamzawy, a leading liberal voice in the People’s Assembly, has already announced that he will not join the Constituent Assembly if nominated, stating that Parliament is repeating the same mistakes it made in March. In the face of rising criticism, will Parliament take the risk of selecting an assembly that has already lost the support of non-Islamist minorities? It appears that the second Constituent Assembly has been doomed to failure already, and Parliament’s best hope for resuscitating the stalled constituent process is to go back to the drawing board again. After two failed attempts at forming an assembly, the Islamist majority will risk a further erosion of public confidence in its performance and intensions if it does not renegotiate a compromise on selection criteria that genuinely accommodates minority political and religious forces. 

Salem Mostafa Kamel is an Egyptian attorney based in Cairo. 

Photo Credit: Arabiya

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