A flurry of meetings was held this week in a bid to draft a new Egyptian constitution ahead of next month's presidential elections. Both the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the People's Assembly – the lower house of Egypt's parliament – were mobilised in an effort to expedite the post-revolution constitution-drafting process.
Sami Anan, the SCAF's second-in-command, held a meeting on Sunday with a number of legal experts to discuss two primary issues: the formation of a new constituent assembly – tasked with writing the new constitution – and presidential elections slated for 23 and 24 May. Anan also discussed proposals for the re-implementation of Egypt's 1971 national charter to act as interim constitution until a new one is finalised.
The latter proposal, however, was rejected by most constitutional law professors in attendance. Rather, they proposed amending the constitutional declaration – issued by the SCAF in the wake of last year's revolution and approved via popular referendum – in the event that a new constitution was not ready before next month's scheduled presidential poll.
"New amendments can be introduced to the constitutional declaration so as to create a balance between the legislative and executive authorities," said prominent constitutional law professor Mohamed Nour Farahat.
For instance, explained Farahat, parliament could be granted the right to withdraw confidence from the president, while the president could be given the right to dissolve parliament. What's more, he added, new articles could be introduced to settle differences between parliament and the government in regards to proposed legislation.
As for the ongoing row over Article 28 of the constitutional declaration – which makes decisions issued by the Supreme Presidential Election Commission impervious to appeal – Farahat proposed the creation of a special judicial council to handle complaints lodged by presidential candidates. "This council would be committed to settling such complaints within a two-week period," he said. "And the council's rulings on these complaints should be final and binding."
The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), for its part, blasted the notion of reviving the 1971 constitution – even on a temporary basis. "This constitution is a very bad one, which grants the president sweeping powers and effectively makes him a pharaoh," asserted Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Hussein. He went on to say that the group planned to take part in a million-man demonstration on Friday in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on the ruling SCAF to hand over power to a civilian authority by the end of June.
Meanwhile, parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee convened a series of meetings to discuss criteria for selecting members of a new constituent assembly. On Sunday, the committee hosted a number of high-profile constitutional experts, including Farahat, Kamal Abul-Magd and Atef El-Banna. The meetings follow a 10 April administrative court decision to dissolve the Islamist-dominated assembly, members of which were found by the court to have been "elected using flawed methods."
According to Abul-Magd, the formation of a new assembly means that Islamist political forces must make some concessions.
"If Islamist forces insist on dominating the assembly, they will make its formation quite impossible," he said. Abul-Magd went on to argue that liberal and leftist political forces "strongly suspect that the Islamists want to impose their will on the constitution-drafting process." For this reason, he added, the Islamists "must seek common ground with their liberal rivals in order to break the current impasse."
Farahat called on "all political forces to rise above narrow personal interests." The new assembly, he argued, "should be elected in a democratic way and include a large number of constitutional law professors and representatives of all political stripes."
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has also joined the fray, proposing a handful of new criteria for the selection of constituent assembly members. According to NCHR Secretary-General Hafez Abu-Saeda, the 100-member assembly should include 15 constitutional law professors and five political science professors, along with representatives of Al-Azhar and Egyptian Christian churches.
The NCHR also proposed allocating 15 assembly seats to intellectuals and cultural organisations. "We also suggest allocating ten seats to professional syndicate representatives and six seats to representatives of chambers of commerce, industry and tourism," said Abu-Saeda. He pointed out that the NCHR proposal further states that the constituent assembly "must not include any parliamentarians to ensure impartiality."
MPs for the FJP, however, have vociferously rejected calls to exclude parliamentarians from the revamped constituent assembly.
"We're open to all proposals, but the exclusion of sitting MPs from the assembly is altogether unfair," said FJP firebrand Sobhi Saleh, deputy chairman of parliament's constitutional committee. "We want to reach consensus on the new assembly, but not to the extent of excluding lawmakers."
Rather, FJP officials have proposed that 20 MPs – 15 from the People's Assembly and five from the Shura Council (the upper, consultative chamber of Egypt's parliament) – be given seats in the assembly. They say that these MPs – who would comprise one-fifth of the constitution-writing body – should include the current speakers of the two houses of parliament and their four deputies; the chairmen of certain parliamentary committees; and the spokesmen for major political parties, namely the FJP, the Salafist Nour Party and the liberal Wafd Party.