The final results of the People’s Assembly elections have been formally announced, confirming that Islamists now enjoy an overwhelming majority in the first freely elected parliament in Egypt since the 1952 revolution.
It is wearisome when observers of the Middle East want to begin conversations with a debate about whether what we are seeing is an Arab “spring” or an “awakening;” whether the unrest that has taken place should be called a “revolt,” an “uprising,” or a “revolution;” whether it is proper to refer to Arab “transitions” when we do not know what the ultimate destination will be.
Egypt’s newly elected 508-member People’s Assembly convened for its first session on January 23. New parliamentarians took their constitutional oaths berore voting to elect a new parliamentary speaker (Brotherhood member Saad al-Katatny, winning with 399 votes) and two deputies (voting is still underway).
Official results for party list-races were released on January 21, confirming the Islamist parties’ sweeping victory: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) won 127 seats (38 percent) and the Salafi Al-Nour Party won 96 (29 percent) of the 332 seats allocated for party lists.
Final results overall, including individual candidates, showed that Islamist parties won around 70 percent of the seats in parliament:
- The Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance won 47 percent, or 235 of the 498 elected seats parliament
- The Salafi Nour Party came in second with 25 percent, or 125 seats
- The liberal Egyptian Bloc coalition won 9 percent of the seats in parliament
- The Wafd Party secured around 9 percent of the seta
- In addition to the 498 seats contested in the elections, the SCAF appointed 10 representatives, including two women and several Coptic Christians.
Muslim Brotherhood member Saad al-Katatny, elected speaker of parliament on January 23, is the first Brotherhood member to hold such a high-ranking position since the movement’s founding in 1928. He had been expected to win at least 346 votes (the sum total of 213 FJP deputies and an additional 22 members of the Democratic Alliance plus the votes of 121 members of the Salafi Nour Party. Al-Katany resigned as secretary general of the FJP shortly after his nomination for the post of speaker. In the video below (Arabic), deputies argue over the four candidates -- al-Katatny, Wasat Party's Essam Sultan, the Egyptian Bloc's Magdy Sabry, and the independent Yousef al-Badry -- nominated for speaker of parliament.
Video: al-Masry al-Youm
Egypt’s newly elected 508-member People’s Assembly convened for its first session on January 23. New parliamentarians will take their constitutional oaths, followed by the election of a parliamentary speaker and two deputies.
Despite widespread speculation to the contrary, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing -- the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) -- has consistently ruled out the possibility of forming any strategic alliance with the Salafist Nour Party. Although the two parties have been indiscriminately – and incorrectly -- lumped together as "Islamists" by some observers, the FJP has been keen on maintaining its distinctly moderate outlook by focusing on nationalist alliances instead of ideology-based ones and prioritizing public policy over religious agendas.
The Muslim Brotherhood, much like other parties, was caught off guard by the Salafis electoral gains in the latest People's Assembly elections. With almost a quarter of the seats, the Nour Party came in second to the FJP, and the former’s leader has been nominated for the influential post of deputy speaker of the People’s Assembly, scheduled to convene for its first session on January 23.
A challenge for the FJP now is to maintain its inclusive policy toward other parties without falling into the trap of ideological polarization, and without excluding the Salafis either. The FJP’s track record throughout the transitional phase has proven that it is not seeking strategic alliances with the Salafis nor with other Islamist parties per se, but rather cross-ideological coalitions that can achieve "consensus." The FJP’s commitment to coalition-building gave rise to the Democratic Alliance for Egypt (DAE) in the months following the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, a coalition that started with 13 parties from across the political spectrum aimed at uniting diverse parties around a common political agenda. The DAE was later converted into a powerful electoral coalition which garnered 47 percent of the seats in PA elections. As the only non-ideological coalition competing in the last elections, the DAE offered a middle-of-the road alternative between the secular-dominated Egyptian Bloc, and the Salafi coalition led by Nour Party.
Furthermore, the FJP sought to allay fears of an "Islamist Government" by insisting on its intention to form a coalition government. This would be based on the 11 parties currently in the DAE together with other parties and independents expected to join FJP's coalition from outside the alliance. This indicates that FJP still abides by MB's old—yet still valid—motto "Participation rather than Domination." Based on the same logic behind the traditional slogan, the FJP has stated that it will not field a presidential candidate affiliated with the Brotherhood.
The same applies to the FJP's proposed parliamentary agenda. Unlike its Salafi counterparts, the FJP does not seem to be preoccupied with the strict application of Sharia law. The party is fairly confident that the majority of Egyptians support the second article of the 1971 constitution, which states that "the Principles of Islamic Shariah are the main source of legislation," and that the majority of secular parties also agree with that article. Therefore, the FJP has prioritized socioeconomic reforms that constituted the core of the Revolution's demands. The FJP is aware that what matters most to the millions of underprivileged Egyptians who voted for the party is not simply the reinstating of religious values in society, but more importantly how an FJP-led government would be able to alleviate their deteriorating economic conditions caused by decades of authoritarian and corrupt rule.
Moreover, the FJP has offered a set of reassuring gestures concerning its adherence to the civil and democratic state. In a recent article outlining the vision of the party, Mohamed Morsi, FJP Chairman, reiterated that one of his party's goals is the "establishment of the modern Egyptian civil, constitutional state, based on freedom and democracy," after highlighting twelve challenges perceived to be the party's priorities, on top of them "the principles of liberty and equality" as Morsi states. The party also emphasized respect for press freedom after rumors that accused the FJP of seeking to restrict freedom of expression in the media. In addition, following the latest raids on Egyptian NGOs – following accusations of illegal foreign funding – the FJP denounced the crackdown, stressing "the importance of the role played by civil society organizations in monitoring government actions, assisting it in reaching the public, and preventing its security forces from returning to the policies and practices of oppression and injustice and tyranny that prevailed in the days of the defunct former regime, by monitoring the actions and movements of these forces, and conveying this information to the public in a completely transparent process."
While the above examples provide ample evidence of FJP's willingness to undertake the role of a responsible political player in post-revolutionary Egypt, it is yet to transform words into actions as it gears up for the establishment of Egypt's long-awaited democracy. The enormous challenges ahead require national consensus and unity towards achieving the goals of the revolution. Apparently, the FJP is aware of the delicate balancing act that is needed to build a politically and ideologically inclusive coalition, and is therefore treading very cautiously.
Photo Credit: BikyaMasr
The latest insult to Egyptian non-governmental organizations -- still reeling from the most recent raids that took place on December 29 -- has come in the form of a new draft law put forth by the interim government to regulate the activities of civil society groups and associations. Mohammed al-Demardesh, Legal Advisor with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, announced the proposed "Law on Associations and Foundations" on January 18, intended to replace the highly controversial and restrictive Law No. 84 of 2002 governing the formation, funding, and operation of civil society organizations. Rights groups have reacted strongly to the proposed law, condemning the closed discussion surrounding its submission.
On January 19, nine Egyptian NGOs issued a joint statement rejecting the regulations, warning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) against supporting Mubarak-era policies that would inevitably produce yet another confrontation with the Egyptian people. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) also held a meeting with civil society representatives and rights groups today to discuss the failings of the current draft and propose an alternate law that would allow NGOs to operate freely.
The proposed draft law, essentially a resubmission of a March 2010 draft by former Mubarak-era Minister of Social Solidarity Ali al-Moselhy, remains problematic in many respects. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law’s (ICNL) Legal Advisor for the Middle East, Kareem Elbayar, summarized his initial observations:
May eliminate the legal basis for many human rights organizations as well as other groups. A number of Egyptian human rights organizations organize as civil companies. Under the draft law, they would be required to register as associations or foundations. This could be problematic, because under the Law on Associations and Foundations the government has broad discretion to deny registration. Even if the groups manage to register, they would be subject to the restrictive provisions of the law, including provisions limiting access to foreign funds and affiliation with foreign organizations. (Preamble, Article 3).
Requires approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity before an Egyptian organization may affiliate with a foreign organization. (Article 12).
Restricts foreign funding of Egyptian associations and foundations as well as domestic fundraising; both require the approval of the Minister of Social Solidarity (Articles 13, 14).
Limits associational activities. Associations will only be allowed to work on issues related to “social welfare and development and enlightenment of society” as defined by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and will not be allowed to work in more than two issue areas without permission from the government (Article 9). The government may interpret the promotion and defense of human rights as falling outside of the permissible fields.
Raises the minimum number of founders of a new association from 10 to 20, and the minimum initial endowment for foundations to LE 100,000 (Article 1), making it more difficult to register new organizations.
Mandates registration of all associations and foundations (Preamble Article 3), and imposes criminal penalties on individuals who establish unregistered groups.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) released a press statement accusing Mubarak loyalists of using revenge tactics against watchdog organizations. The resubmission of the draft law apparently occurred after a meeting last week between Kamal al-Ganzouri, SCAF-appointed Prime Minister, Faiza Abul Naga, Minister of International Cooperation, and Ali al-Moselhy. Although Mohammed al-Demardesh assured the public in an interview with al-Shurouq newspaper that the “law was not finalized and open to amendments,” he made it clear that all groups, “whether religious or development based, would be subject to oversight.” The Ministry of Social Affairs has offered a 15 day time period during which it would accept comments on the draft law.
Tarek Radwan is an Egyptian human rights activist specializing in international law and conflict resolution. He has worked for Human Rights Watch's MENA division and the United Nations mission (UNAMID) in Darfur as a Human Rights Officer. He currently provides consulting services on civilian protection and Middle East issues.
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The Popular Campaign to Support Mohamed ElBaradei issued a statement rejecting "fake celebrations" being planned for the anniversary of the outbreak of the 25 January revolution, in the group’s first official statement since ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from the presidential race.
Egypt's route to political transition over the past year has been bumpy, confusing, and thus far guided by the roadmap laid out by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in the interim constitution it unilaterally declared on March 30 of last year. But on January 18, the generals leading the country seem to have hit a full roadblock ironically anchored in the temporary legal framework they designed themselves: In a surprising preliminary ruling – expected to be finalized by the end of the week -- the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) struck down parts of the presidential election law the SCAF was about to issue by decree.
What was the SCC really doing in ruling against a law that had not been promulgated yet? And how much of an obstacle is yesterday's ruling to the military’s agenda?
The SCC was undertaking an unusual role in several respects but not an uninvited one. And it a subtle way, it may actually have clarified some lingering ambiguities about Egypt’s interim legal framework that were not resolved by the Constitutional Declaration last year. To understand why, we have to probe a little into the ruling and the legal context in which it was issued.
In reviewing the constitutionality of the SCAF’s draft law regulating procedures and candidate eligibility requirements for the presidential election, the court’s objections were largely technical rather than substantive. The SCAF's proposed law amends 15 articles from Law 174/2005, governing presidential elections. That law was rightly criticized for consolidating Hosni Mubarak’s power and his prospects for re-election by forming a Presidential Election Commission (PEC) packed with government loyalists and shielded from oversight by the legislative or judiciary branches. According to extensive press reports, in its January 18 ruling, the SCC took issue with the SCAF’s draft on several technical grounds:
- The court rejected the draft law’s stipulation that the chairmanship of the Presidential Election Commission, initially headed by the Chief Justice of the SCC, should pass to the President of the Cairo Court of Appeals if the chief justice must be replaced. In its ruling, the SCC argued that this provision violates articles of the March 30 Constitutional Declaration which implied that chairmanship of the committee should devolve to the oldest vice-presidents of the SCC.
- The Court found the SCAF’s draft impinged on the prerogatives of the PEC or ventured beyond the text of the interim constitution in several areas: elaborating on the candidate eligibility requirements already defined by the March 30 Declaration; mandating notarization of the 30,000 signatures required to meet the eligibility threshold; instituting a more restrictive definition of Egyptian citizenship; and authorizing a two-day voting period (a matter that should have been left to the PEC).
What prompted the SCC to review a law that had not yet been placed on the books? Almost never has the Court exercised prior review; its constitutional work has largely been restricted to reviewing laws after they have been passed. But this was not a power grab by the Court; just the opposite. The SCC was specifically tasked by the country's constitutional declaration with reviewing the draft law before the SCAF issues it. It was given a similar role back in 2007, when it was required to review the draft law on the same subject. Why would Egypt's ousted president and its currently ruling generals have signed over such an important job to a Court not under their complete control?
Although it may look like a concession to the judiciary, granting the SCC the authority to preemptively veto the draft law would actually prevent an even more damaging attack on the legitimacy of the executive branch in the future: Mubarak and now the SCAF wanted at all costs to avoid having the SCC strike down such a law after the president was elected. Such a ruling after the fact would immediately create confusion and a leadership vacuum. There was reason to think the SCC was capable of undertaking such a step, since it has previously struck down the laws by which sitting parliaments were elected, forcing new laws to be written immediately and new parliaments to be elected.
So what may look like a preemptive power play by the judiciary was actually the result of a premeditated maneuver by the SCAF to prevent a more serious legal challenge down the road.
Despite the fact that the SCC’s ruling was foreshadowed and in fact mandated by the SCAF’s own interim constitution, the decision was undoubtedly still awkward for both parties. Over the past year, members of the Court have actually been consulted extensively on the legal and constitutional issues associated with the transition. Evidence of the judiciary’s consultation with the SCAF is extensive: Some of the SCC's own personnel have been involved in helping the SCAF draft its constitutional proclamations; SCAF generals have sometimes cited advice they have received from SCC judges to legitimize their actions; and some judges have taken public positions backing the military’s handling of the transition. With some judges--though not the full Court itself--partly a player, it becomes a bit odd for the SCC to be adjudicating issues that some of its personnel have been involved in.
Whatever position individual justices took, and however many complications the SCC may have caused the SCAF in forcing it to revise the law, the January 18 ruling may have been a very real blessing for the generals. To date, their constitutional conduct has been so confusing that it has risked leaving Egypt in a kind of a vacuum. When the generals asserted control in February, they first suspended the constitution, leaving the country in a constitutional no man’s land. Then they asked a committee to develop a limited number of amendments for the 1971 constitution; the members were told not to try to rewrite the entire document. The proposed amendments were then submitted to a referendum in March. After voters overwhelmingly approved the package of amendments, instead of reinstating the 1971 constitution as amended, the SCAF did what it had barred the committee from doing: it developed a comprehensive (if interim) “Constitutional Declaration” to govern the country. It declined to submit that document to the people.
A couple supplementary constitutional declarations have since been issued to tinker with the text. All along, legal experts have been confused about the validity of a temporary constitution that deviates from the original text approved by voters and seems to be in a constant state of flux, subject to the political needs of the moment as determined by the SCAF. For example, the amendments drafted by the SCAF-appointed committee last March were clearly predicated on the assumption that a president could be elected before the constitution was written. But the SCAF already seemed to back away from that position almost immediately, because the Constitutional Declaration of March 30 wrote the SCAF’s position into Egypt’s governing framework, explicitly allowing it to exercise presidential authority even as the constitution was being drafted—and perhaps until it was completed. Up to this point, the precise sequence of constitution drafting and presidential elections remains unclear and contested.
In exercising judicial review over the SCAF’s new draft law, the SCC was faced with a very strange dilemma: The court was supposed to measure the draft law against the constitution--but which constitution? The 1971 constitution had been extra-constitutionally pushed aside and nobody is asking to revive it. On the other hand, the package of nine amendments approved by the people—who are, all acknowledge, the ultimate source of sovereignty--might be seen as fully legitimate, except that they were approved as amendments to the 1971 document that has since been discarded. The "Constitutional Declaration" – which problematically layered an additional round of unilateral revisions on top of the original text approved by voters -- owes its legitimacy only to the SCAF's say-so.
In presenting its ruling yesterday, the SCC did not really go into these issues in any explicit way. But that is just the point: by declining to do so and by accepting the Constitutional Declaration as the yardstick by which to measure the law, the SCC was implicitly blessing a document whose birth – in an ambiguous legal environment of military rule and emergency law -- could easily be portrayed as illegitimate. In a time of constitutional interregnum, the Court charged with protecting the constitution chose the SCAF's Constitutional Declaration as the document to treat as authoritative. In forcing the generals to tidy up the text of the specific law regulating the presidential election, the Court implicitly endorsed the Declaration’s legal status as the law of the land, now clearly superseding both the 1971 document and the package of nine amendments approved by referendum.
So what is the next chapter in this constitutional drama? Now that the SCC has demanded revisions to the presidential election law, the SCAF is facing pressure to produce an amended law very quickly, and if possible, before the newly elected People’s Assembly convenes for its first session on January 23. The ruling generals have good reason to finalize the law before the new parliament is seated, because many of that body’s members – particularly the representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – are likely to challenge the SCAF’s legislative authority. In preparation for the first parliamentary session, the FJP is already set to propose new laws regulating judicial authority, wages, pensions and restricting monopolies, and the party will likely resist any effort by the SCAF to interfere with or override its ambitious legislative agenda.
For the SCAF, the SCC decision may be the writing on the wall, signaling that the days of rule by decree may be coming to an end. But while the military’s power to arbitrarily issue future ad hoc legislation may be curbed by the new parliament, the SCC decision will likely serve to protect the SCAF’s interests by legitimizing its existing constitutional declaration as the authoritative legal framework for the duration of the transitional period.
Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb will deliver a statement from Tahrir Square on January 25 to demand a swift transfer of power to civilians. Major political forces agreed after a meeting on January 18 that al-Azhar should be involved in drafting Egypt’s new constitution.
Mohamed ElBaradei dropped out of the presidential race on December 14, citing the military’s mishandling of the transitional period, which would make it impossible to conduct a free and fair election.