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Egypt's Islamists boycott constitutional meeting with cabinet

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups boycott Tuesday's meeting on Egypt's constitution with Deputy PM in opposition to the discussion of supra-constitutional principles

Ahram Online, Tuesday 1 Nov 2011
Islamists gathered in Tahrir square in 29 July to protest plans to put supra-constitutional principl
Islamists gathered in Tahrir square in 29 July to protest plans to put supra-constitutional principles (Photo by: Mai Shaeen)
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The Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya have both announced their intention to boycott today’s meeting which will discuss proposed supra-constitutional principles and put in place the criteria for choosing members of the 100-member constituent assembly which will draft Egypt’s new constitution.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Al-Selmy called for the meeting, extending invitations to around 500 representatives of Egypt’s various political forces as well as a number of political figures. The meeting is expected to take place at the Cairo Opera House.

It is widely believed that Islamists reject supra-constitutional principles, because they would limit their ability to tailor the constitution to their Islamist agenda. However, the Islamists hold that no conditions should be imposed on the elected representatives of the people. A constituent assembly chosen by a new parliament should have an unrestricted hand in drafting the new constitution, they argue.

Sceptics argue that since Islamists will most likely dominate the first post-Mubarak Parliament, the constituent assembly will be stacked in their favour. Liberals and revolutionaries have therefore been demanding the adoption of supra-constitutional principles to insure that Egypt remains a civil state.

Mohamed Saad El-Katatny, the secretary-general of the MB’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said that the group will not attend today’s meeting, as it “violates the will of the people.”

In a statement released on the group’s official website, Ikhwan Online, El-Katatny expressed his disapproval of today’s meeting. “To open this subject at a time when the Egyptian people are busy with elections will lead to divisions which will have a negative impact on the country’s national interest,” stated El-Katatny.

The statement came just hours after Al-Selmy announced that El-Katatny had phoned him to assure him of the Brotherhood’s participation in the meeting.

The Brotherhood are not the only Islamists to voice their disapproval of the meeting. Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya and the Salafist El-Nour Party will also boycott the meeting. The former released a statement condemning the meeting and insisted that the constituent assembly should be put together by an elected parliament.

The group argued that granting 500 unelected individuals the right to impose criteria would be a confiscation of Egyptian people’s rights. The group also stressed that the decision to pursue this course after the majority of political forces rejected it could cause a disturbance in the political landscape.

Egyptian political forces are now gearing up for parliamentary (both upper and lower houses) elections which will be staggered across three stages: the first of which starts on 28 November. Once chosen, the assembly has six months to draft a new constitution, which will then be put to a national referendum.

A number of prominent Egyptian NGOs have also decided to boycott the meeting "or any other similar meeting until [Prime Minister] Essam Sharaf's interim government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (the country's de-facto rulers) provide proof that they respect the dignity and rights of the Egyptian people."

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, six human rights organisations emphasised the systematic transferral of thousands of civilians to military courts, increasing cases of torture and an overall rise in human rights violations. They also stressed that while Egyptians NGOs played an essential role in fighting against Mubarak-era crimes, they are now being subjected to a defamation campaign by the government "that seems to be punishing them for standing on the side of the people and their rights."  

The statement, signed by the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, El Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Freedom of Thought and Expression Association, described the meeting "as a way to misguide public opinion.”

“The military council and the government,” according to the statement, “want the public to believe that they engage in dialogue and listen to representatives of political forces and civil society, while in fact they only use these meeting to legitimise actions that totally contradict what has been agreed on in similar meetings.”

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