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Egypt's political forces throw down gauntlet over 'supra-constitutional principles'

Political parties and movements from across the spectrum warn SCAF of million-man march on Friday if controversial raft of principles isn't scrapped

Yasmine Fathi , Sunday 13 Nov 2011
Conference
(Photo Mai Shaheen)
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The Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance electoral coalition – along with most of Egypt’s other political parties, movements and presidential candidates – announced its rejection on Sunday of a raft of government-proposed “supra-constitutional principles” and gave Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) until Wednesday to withdraw the controversial document.

The ultimatum was issued at a press conference held at the headquarters of the brotherhood’s recently-licensed political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The conference followed weeks of debate over the contentious principles, which were proposed earlier this month following a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Ali El-Selmy and 500 of the country’s leading political figures and forces. The proposal consisted of two parts: the supra-constitutional principles themselves, and proposed criteria for choosing the constituent assembly mandated with drawing up a new national charter.  

The document, popularly dubbed the “El-Selmy Communiqué,” caused an immediate uproar, and has since given rise to legitimate complaints that it grants the Egyptian armed forces political powers far greater than those given parliament or the president. Among the communiqué’s most controversial points are Article 9, stipulating that the military budget remain confidential; Article 2 (second section), giving the military the right to “object” to certain articles of the new constitution; and Article 3, which notes that, in the event that the constituent assembly fails to draw up a new constitution within a six-month period, the SCAF – in its capacity as acting president – would have the authority to draw up a brand-new assembly.

On Sunday, more than a dozen political forces reiterated their rejection of the communiqué, vowing to organise a million-man march on Friday if the SCAF – and the SCAF-appointed government – did not scrap the document.

Sunday’s conference was attended by presidential candidates Amr Moussa, Mohamed Selim El-Awa, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Abdallah Meshel and Ayman Nour. It was also attended by 18 different political parties, including the FJP, the Wasat Party, the Ghad El-Thawra Party, the Karama Party, and the Adl Party. Several revolutionary youth groups, including the April 6 movement and the January 25 Youth Coalition, also attended the meeting and signed on to the statement.

The statement begins by conceding that the constituent assembly mandated with drafting a new constitution should represent all segments of Egyptian society and not just Egypt’s elected parliamentary majority. “However,” the statement goes on to stress, “granting SCAF and the constitutional court the right to ‘object’ to the committee’s work...violates both the will of the people and the communiqué’s introductory statement, according to which the people constitute the ultimate source of authority.”

 

The statement goes on to specifically target Article 9 of the communiqué, which places a veil of secrecy around the military budget. This article has drawn particularly heated criticism from political forces across the spectrum, which maintain that the armed forces’ budget should be subject to parliamentary debate.

Signatories of Sunday’s statement stressed that while the military enjoyed a “special status” due to its responsibility for maintaining national security, it should not be considered above the law.

“[The status of the military] will be respected when the new constitution is drafted, which will place [the armed forces] in a good position to achieve its technical mandate,” the statement reads. “We will respect these confidential issues when discussing the budget, but this doesn’t mean that they need a constitutional decree at this time.”

The statement goes on to assert that the armed forces, like all of Egypt’s other executive institutions, would be “subject to both the constitution and the law.”

The statement concludes with the demand that Egypt’s military – which has governed the country since the February ouster of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak – provide a timetable for the delegation of power to a civilian authority no later than April of next year.

“In reference to the above points,” the statement asserts, “we all agree that the SCAF, the government and the country’s diverse political forces should terminate any further discussion of the issue.”

In the event that they don’t, however, the statement goes on to warn of a million-man march in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday to drive the point home.

“We will give the military council and the government until Wednesday to respond to our demands,” FJP Secretary-General Saad El-Katatni declared at the conference.

 

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