Liberals, leftists stage 2nd walkout from Egypt's Constituent Assembly

Zeinab El Gundy , Monday 11 Jun 2012

Second exodus by non-Islamist forces throws future of Egypt's constitution-drafting body into doubt once again

The joint session of the constituent assembly
The joint session of Parliament to elect the constituent assembly members in last May (Photo:Reuters)

A mere 24 hours before electing the 100 members of Egypt's Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution, The Egyptian Bloc parties – which include the Free Egyptians party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party – announced on Monday that they would withdraw from the body so as to allow their seats to be filled by young, female and Christian representatives.

The Egyptian Bloc was followed by other leftist, nationalist and liberal parties – including the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance and the Democratic Front Party – all of which announced plans to give up their seats to allow for greater representation by women, Egyptian youth and Christians. They also took the step in order to register their objection to what they describe as "the Islamist monopoly on the constitution-drafting process."

The announcements came after a decision by the Egyptian Bloc to withdraw from the assembly at a Sunday meeting. Party representatives left the meeting to object to how some of the non-Islamist seats in the assembly had been reallocated to the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Reform Party and Islamic religious institution Al-Azhar.

Ahram Online spoke with Free Egyptians party spokesman Ahmed Khairy about the decision to withdraw from the meeting and the final agreement on the Constituent Assembly's composition.

"We agreed that half the seats in the assembly would be allocated to Islamists while the rest would be earmarked for non-Islamist parties and figures," Khairy said. "But instead we found on Sunday that representatives of the Wasat Party, the Building and Reform Party, Al-Azhar, Christian churches and other state institutions were taking seats from the 50 per cent allocated to non-Islamist forces."

According to the arrangement agreed to by various parties represented in Parliament and the ruling military council, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) will hold 16 seats; the Salafist Nour Party eight; the liberal Wafd Party five; the Free Egyptians party two; the Egyptian Social Democratic Party two; and one each for the Wasat Party, the Nasserist Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the liberal Reform and Development Party and the Islamist Building and Development Party.

It was further agreed that the Constituent Assembly would include 15 judges, nine religious figures (five from Al-Azhar and four from Christian churches), ten public figures, ten revolutionary youth figures (both male and female), seven members of workers' and farmers' unions, seven members of professional syndicates, and a single representative each from the police, the army and the justice ministry.

"We're not looking to bring down the Constituent Assembly or seeking a new constitutional declaration," the Free Egyptians spokesman told Ahram Online, denying rumours that a new declaration would be issued imminently by the ruling military council.

Despite the decision to withdraw from the assembly, Khairy wished the remaining assembly members success. "I hope that the Islamists will prove us wrong and provide Egyptians with a civilian constitution," he said.

Wasat Party member Mohamed Mahsoub defended his party and blasted those that withdrew from the assembly.

"We rejected the last Constituent Assembly because it was dominated by the [Islamist] majority," Mahsoub declared on Twitter. "But now we're facing a minority that wants to control the assembly and determine which party is Islamist and which is not."

He went on to stress that the Wasat Party was not a religious party but rather "a party that seeks a civil state and equal rights for all Egyptians."

"We agreed that half the seats in the assembly would be for the Islamist majority in Parliament, while the other half would be for other parties, Al-Azhar, Christian churches and judicial figures," Mahsoub added.

Sayed El-Badawi, leader of the Wafd Party, confirmed this, saying on Sunday night that: "Non-Islamist parties had agreed to allocate half the assembly seats to the FJP and the Nour Party."  

To add to these problems, the Constituent Assembly Law – issuance of which is expected Tuesday by the People's Assembly and the Shura Council (the lower and upper houses of parliament respectively) has been rejected by several, mainly non-Islamist, MPs.

"I reject the draft law because it drags Parliament into a political fight between Islamist and non-Islamist forces," MP Mostafa El-Naggar of the centrist Al-Adl Party told Ahram Online.

"Criteria for choosing assembly members are not mentioned in the law," El-Naggar added, voicing fears that the proposed law would make the assembly's decisions immune from appeal.

Non-Islamist parties and figures had earlier accused the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties of attempting to dominate the first Constituent Assembly, which included 66 Islamist members elected in March by Egypt's Islamist-led parliament. Non-Islamist assembly members staged a mass walkout shortly afterward.

In early April, the assembly was formally dissolved following a ruling to this effect by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court. 

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