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SCAF's advisory council calls for constituent assembly to disband

More setbacks for constituent assembly as an official advisory body to SCAF demands that it be disbanded and the constitutional declaration that determines how its members are selected be rewritten

Nada El-Kouny , Monday 2 Apr 2012
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In a further blow to the legitimacy of the constituent assembly, the head of a leading advisory body to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has called for the assembly to disband, following his own resignation from the body and those of many of its other members.

Sameh Ashour, the head of the Advisory Council created by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in November 2011, has called for the SCAF to draft a new constitutional declaration.

Ashour recently took over the position from current presidential candidate Mansour Hassan after the latter decided to run in the elections.

The constituent assembly has been engulfed in controversy since the announcement of its members was made over a week ago, with many key political actors arguing that the heavy Islamist majority within the assembly, which will write Egypt's next constitution, is undemocratic.

The Advisory Council had announced in March that they would suspend all meetings until they met with the SCAF to determine the Advisory Council's role in the upcoming presidential elections. Despite this, an urgent meeting was held on Sunday, at which point Ashour stressed that Article 60 of the constitutional declaration would have to be reformulated.

Article 60 of the constitutional declaration has become the main point of contention in the crisis. The declaration, which was approved in a referendum in March 2011, gave parliament the authority to choose the members of the assembly, be they sitting MPs or non-parliamentarians. Article 60 gives parliamentarians the power to elect the members of the constituent assembly, but critics argue that the selection of MPs themselves as members of the body is an incorrect interpretation of the article's provisions and therefore unconstitutional.

The constitutional crisis has become a pressing issue ‎at a time when Egypt's foundational document is expected to be completed in six months, supposedly before a president takes office.

Around 25 members, mostly liberals and leftists, have already resigned from the 100-member assembly, in protest at the 70-member-strong presence of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour Party.

Two main suggestions have been proposed by those opposed to the assembly's composition - to dissolve it altogether based on its unconstitutionality, or to replace some members. The former suggestion is most popular, as many believe that any changes would be cosmetic and not address the core of the issue, which is that a more democratic decision-making process should be applied and respected.

Activists and revolutionary ‎forces staged a protest against the composition of the assembly outside the State Court building in Dokki on Tuesday, and ‎outside the parliament building on Wednesday, coinciding with the assembly's first meeting.

A lawsuit was also filed on Tuesday by seven prominent human rights lawyers against ‎parliament at the State Court, but was postponed to 10 April when a final decision is expected to be announced. ‎

As the second meeting for the constituent assembly is expected to take place on 4 April, with only 70 per cent of its members present, many are left wondering whether it can continue with its task of drafting a constitution.

Independent liberal MP Amr Hamzawy announced during a conference at the Press Syndicate on Tuesday that if over 21 members resign, parliament will have to dissolve the assembly.

On Sunday, a nine-member committee, including Wasat Party MP Essam Soltan, independent liberal MP and former FJP-ally Wahid Abdel-Meguid and several FJP members was established to reconcile with the resigned ‎members at the Egyptian Social Democratic Party's headquarters.

However, on Monday, Ahmed Said, the head of the Free Egyptians Party, announced that the meeting was a failure, since the resigned members had been expected to rejoin the assembly in return for the replacement of some of the assembly's original members. This was not enough for Said and the others.

The four parties that recalled their members from the assembly are the centre-left Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the liberal Free Egyptians Party, the leftist Popular Socialist Alliance and the liberal Wafd Party.

Al-Azhar University and the Coptic Orthodox Church have also recalled their representatives in protest at the lack of ‎adequate representation. ‎

A number of professional syndicate heads also withdrew, including Ashour himself, who is the head of the lawyers' ‎syndicate in addition to being head of the Advisory Council.

Additional resignations are also probable, as members of the engineers' and journalists' syndicates are pressing for their leaders to resign from the assembly.

A group from the engineers' syndicate calling themselves the "Independent Current" are eagerly pushing their ‎head, Maged El-Kholoussy to resign from the party.‎

The Muslim Brotherhood has continued to stress that it would be willing to replace some members and so far refused to make any further concessions.

The Brotherhood's official website on Sunday reported that a real effort was being ‎made by different assembly members to achieve a "consensus" and convince the resigned members to return. ‎

In addition, it was reported that the Brotherhood and the Nour Party were willing to replace some of their own members from a substitutes list. However, the list would be under the control of the Islamist parties. Yet many are still rejecting the committee entirely, demanding the body disband entirely.

‎Until now, it remains unclear how the impasse will be solved and what will happen at the assembly's second session on Wednesday.

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