The Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament (Shura Council) is due to hold two procedural meetings on Wednesday in preparation for a new parliamentary season after assuming legislative power for the first time in 32 years.
The Shura Council, which was protected from dissolution by a controversial presidential decree last month, will have the legislative authority until a new lower house of parliament is elected within two months after 64% of Egyptians approved the new constitution, according to unofficial results.
The Council was set up by late president Anwar El-Sadat in1980 as a consultative body. It also had control over state-owned press organisations.
The first opening meeting will see 90 members – officially appointed by Islamist president Mohamed Morsi – take the constitutional oath. The Council’s speaker Ahmed Fahmi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and a relative of President Morsi, will deliver a speech which will be followed by a statement from Prime Minister Hisham Qandil on the country’s deteriorating economic conditions.
There has been much speculation recently over whether Qandil’s government will be fired or just reshuffled. Rumours are rife that the government will be forced to resign to make way for a new cabinet headed by business tycoon and influential Brotherhood leader Khairat El-Shater.
A number of senior FJP officials, such as Essam El-Erian, have repeatedly criticised Qandil’s government and openly called for the appointment of El-Shater as a new prime minister to take charge of implementing Morsi’s so-called “Nahda” (Renaissance) project.
The second procedural meeting will be devoted to completing the make-up of the Council’s 11 committees. The internal regulations of the Council will be amended to give it the power of legislation in accordance with article 230 of the newly-passed constitution.
The article also states that a new Shura Council shall be elected within a year after the lower house of parliament (House of Representatives) is elected. It will include 150 members, tenth of whom will be appointed by the president.
The Shura Council currently includes 270 members, 90 of whom were appointed by President Morsi on 24 December.
As expected, the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, and its Islamist allies dominated the list of the 90 appointees. The Brotherhood’s allies include the two main Salafist political parties – the Nour and Gamaa Islamiya (Islamic Group) - and the moderate Islamist party Al-Wassat.
Many members of the three Islamist parties took part in the constitution-drafting process.
The list of the appointees also included several independents who were members of the constituent assembly that was tasked with writing the constitution.
“The Shura Council has once again become a hotbed for regime loyalists, just like it was under (former president) Hosni Mubarak. This time it’s loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood and its sycophants,” political analyst Gamal Zahran told Ahram Online.
“The list of appointees clearly shows that the Muslim Brotherhood, like Mubarak, puts loyalty first when selecting figures for appointment in political institutions like the Shura Council.”
All in all, the number of Islamist appointees stood at 42, 17 of whom belong to Muslim Brotherhood. The list of appointees also included 19 Islamist-oriented independents (5 of whom belong to Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest religious authority).
Topping the list of appointees are six high-profile officials of the Brotherhood’s FJP, including Essam El-Erian (chairman of the outgoing parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee); Sobhi Saleh (the deputy chairman of the outgoing parliament’s Legislative Affairs Committee); and Ashraf Badreddin (deputy chairman of the outgoing parliament’s Budget Committee).
Other Brotherhood-affiliated members include Gamal Heshmat, Abbas Abdel-Aziz Khaled, Abdel-Qader Auda (a senior Brotherhood ideologue) and Khairi Abdel-Dayem (chairman of the Doctors’ Syndicate).
The list also includes some firebrand Salafists such as Amir Bassam; Mohamed Youssri; Mohamed El-Saghir, Mohamed Omran, Mohamed Badawi, and Safwat Abdel-Ghani, who was convicted of killing former speaker of parliament Rifaat Al-Mahgoub in 1990.
Surprisingly, the list featured Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, a former senior official of Mubrak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP).
El-Qasabi was a member of the NDP’s policies committee, which was led by Mubarak’s younger son Gamal. He was appointed by Morsi although article 232 of the constitution bans the senior NDP officials from engaging in any political activity for ten years.
Reports suggested that Al-Qasabi was appointed in return for his efforts to coax Sufi groups into voting “yes” for the constitution.
The list also included Fadiya Salem, a former NDP official in Sinai and a current member of the liberal-oriented Reform and Development party, which is headed by late president Sadat’s nephew.
Some little-known secular political parties, which refused to withdraw from the constituent assembly, also had representatives in the Shura Council. On top of these are Ghad El-Thawra (the Revolution’s Tomorrow) party, which is led by political activist Ayman Nour. The list includes Mohamed Mohieddin and Abdel-Moneim El-Tunsi, who were members of the constituent assembly.
Constitutional law professors Gamal Gibriel (a law professor and chairman of the constitution-drafting assembly’s system of governance committee), Hamed Hassan (a member of the mini-committee which took charge of putting the final draft of the constitution), Ramadan Batikh and Maged Ragheb El-Hilaw (two constitutional law professors) were present in the list of appointees.
Al-Azhar clerics also got their quota of seats in Shura Council as Hassan El-Shafie (an assistant to Grand Imam of Al-Azhar) and Nasr Farid Wassel (the former Grand Mufti of Egypt), who were active members of the constitution-drafting assembly, were picked in the Council..
Al-Wassat party, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, earned four seats. Those include the party’s secretary-general Mohamed Abdel-Latif, spokesman Tarek El-Malt, professor Amany Qandil and activist Tarek El-Mahdi.
Al-Wassat Party actively cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood in drafting the constitution. In return, the party’s leading official Mohamed Mahsoub was appointed minister of state for parliamentary affairs last July.
The election of the Council last February saw the Brotherhood's FJP win 103 seats (around 58.5 per cent) and the Salafist Nour Party gain 44 seats (25.5 per cent) of the total 180 elected seats. This gives Islamists the largest share with around 84 per cent of the total elected seats.
The list of appointees increased the Brotherhood and Salafist seats to 180 (or two thirds of the seats), out of 270. Following the addition of 40 appointed and elected independents with Islamist leanings, the majority of political Islam members will go up to almost 220 members (or around 75 per cent of total elected and appointed seats).
A number of secular parties and independents were able to clinch around 50 seats during last February’s Council elections.
The new list also includes eight political parties which got one seat each; and around 14 independents, 12 of which are Christians, including Catholic businessman Rami Lakah, political science professor Mona Makram Ebeid, political analyst Sameh Fawzi, lawyers Mamdouh Ramzi and Suzi Nashed, and political activist Nelly Fam Naguib.
Critics fear Islamists would try to pass laws aimed at tightening their grip on power such as regulating street protests, which have been on the rise since Morsi assumed power last June.