The urge to bar “remnants of the fallen regime” from political participation has made a comeback in Parliament now that all is not well between the majority Freedom and Justice Party
(FJP, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the powers that be.
The People's Assembly – Egypt's lower house – will hold an exclusive meeting to discuss newly proposed amendments to the relevant laws aimed at placing a ban from running in the presidential elections on leading members of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and other close aides of Mubarak’s. The commotion comes in response to the former chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s vice president during the last ten days of his rule, registering as a presidential candidate.
Concluding an hour and a half-long session on Wednesday, parliamentary speaker and former secretary general of the FJP Saad El-Katatni put different proposals to the vote. The first, submitted by FJP spokesman Hussein Ibrahim, suggested replacing the 2011 law proposed by the Wasat Party spokesman Essam Sultan with amendments to the 1956 law on the exercise of political rights “to stop Mubarak’s aides and the stalwarts of the NDP – members of the politburo, the secretariat-general and the Policies Committee led by Mubarak's son Gamal – from running.”
Ibrahim's proposal garnered many votes but El-Katatni adjourned all proposals to a joint meeting of the Proposals and Legislative and Constitutional Affairs committees – to be discussed at a plenary session tomorrow, Thursday 12 April, at 12.30pm.
For his part Sultan expressed willingness to give up the 2011 law in favour of the proposed amendments after a number of MPs said his propositions were tailored to preventing a specific figure from running, which may be unconstitutional.
Wednesday's session opened with independent MP Mustafa Bakri raising constitutional doubts about the law proposed by Essam Sultan. Bakri also said that the Assembly's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee had rushed into discussing Sultan's law in the absence of many of its members. The discussion showed division among MPs. Some believed Sultan's law would be ruled unconstitutional and that it would be better to scrap it altogether and leave matters to "Egyptians who are intelligent enough to know who were loyal to the former regime or who were not”.
The liberal MP Mohamed Abu-Hamed, for example, said, “It is not a revolutionary step to issue a law that will be ruled unconstitutional. The revolution gave Egyptians the freedom to elect their representatives in a democratic way and it is not our place to tailor laws against certain figures." Marian Malak, a Christian appointed MP, agreed: "Why should we impose our will on Egyptians by promulgating such a proposed law? We have to leave the choice to voters... And what if Omar Suleiman did win the election, wouldn’t the Egyptian people be able to stage another revolution to topple him?”
The FJP's parliamentary spokesman Hussein Ibrahim thought otherwise: “The Egyptian people will not allow symbols of the former regime of Hosni Mubarak to hold sway again. We see there are hectic attempts to create day-to-day problems for Egyptians until a hero from the former regime emerges as the saviour... We will not allow this scenario to be acted out but at the same time we should not rush into issuing a potentially unconstitutional law. In this context, I propose that article two of 1956's law on the exercise of political rights should be amended in order to prevent close aides of Mubarak’s and leading members of his former regime from standing in the presidential elections."
The liberal MP Amr Hamzawy said he agreed “with the FJP's proposal to amend the political rights law so as not to impose a ban on Mubarak's close aides but on all NDP leading officials”. Joining forces with Hamzawy, the FJP MP Mohamed El-Beltagi said, “We will never allow Mubarak's intelligence men to hijack the revolution or else people will take to the streets again to stand against it.”
Wahid Abdel-Meguid, a liberal MP loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, proposed putting both Sultan's proposed law and the amendments of the political rights law to the vote at the same time.