Islamists, liberals start parliament debate on Egypt's constituent assembly

Nada Hussein rashwan, Salma Shukrallah, Saturday 3 Mar 2012

Egypt's parliament held its first joint session Saturday; Tantawi set to speak but was a no-show; Salafists demand 'Islamic identity'; liberals champion rights of minorities; constituent assembly to be elected on 24 March

Egypt's People Assembly (Photo: Reuters)

People Assembly speaker Mohamed Saad El-katatni has set a deadline of 8 March to receive all suggestions regarding the criteria to form the constituent assembly that will be tasked with drafting a new constitution.

El-Katatni also revealed the suggestions would be discussed on 17 March and the constituent assembly members would be eventually elected on 24 March.

Sami Mahran, the parliament’s secretary general, said there will be a joint parliament committee to receive suggestions throughout the time allowed for submissions.

The main agenda of Saturday's first joint parliament session between the upper and lower houses was to discuss preliminary suggestions about the process of choosing and regulating the work of the constituent assembly, which will comprise one hundred members.

Egypt's acting president, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, was supposed to deliver a keynote speech during the conference but he did not attend for "security concerns", which have been speculated by observers as a result of the recent NGOs debacle.

Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, which won an outright majority in the lower and upper houses, announced a proposal whereby the 100-member assembly would be made up of 40 MPs from the People's Assembly and Shura Council, 30 public figures selected by parliament and 30 people selected by professional syndicates, trade unions, Al-Azhar and the Egyptian church.

MP Mustafa El-Naggar of the centrist Adl Party said that a constitution written by a constituent assembly dominated by a single political party would be illegitimate. El-Naggar also said he accepts the Freedom and Justice Party's proposal.

Salafist MP and lawyer Mamdouh Ismail stated during the session that Egypt's constitution should reflect the "Islamic identity" of the nation.

“Constitutional traditions do not dictate consensus as a must in drafting constitutions,” he added in response to suggestions previously made by many Egyptians that the highest legal document should be drafted in a consensual manner by all segments and groups in society.

On the other hand, independent MP Amr El-Shobaky said that the new constitution's role is to protect the citizens' rights and, therefore, drafting a consensual constitution, he argued, creates no threat to the "Islamic identity" of Egypt.

Shobaky also stressed that women, Copts and youth need to be represented more adequately in parliament.

Liberal MP Amr Hamzawy has also called for women and Copts to be fairly represented in the constituent assembly. Hamzawy stressed that the underrepresentation of women, Copts and youth in parliament should be taken into account when forming the constituent assembly. He also suggested that the 100-member assembly should contain only 30 MPs.

Meanwhile, commenting on Saturday's joint session, Kamal Abou Eita, the president of Egypt's Independent Unions Federation, a group that hopes to be represented in the drafting of the costitution, told state television: "The representation of all social groups (in the assembly) is essential for the process of drafting the upcoming constitution."

With presidential elections in Egypt scheduled for May, the deadline for drafting the constitution remains unclear.

"We prefer that the commission concludes its work before presidential elections are due," said El-Katatni during an interview with state television.

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