Islamists attack 'dictatorship of the minority'

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 28 Mar 2012

After electing an Islamist chairman, the Constituent Assembly tasked with writing Egypt's new constitution held its first meeting despite the absence of a third of its members, mostly liberals, who are boycotting in protest

Mohamed Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood
Mohamed Saad al-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood (Photo: Reuters)

The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly entrusted with writing Egypt's post-Mubarak constitution was held Wednesday, with Parliament Speaker Saad El-Katatni elected as chairman. The meeting also saw a 9-member committee formed, tasked with receiving proposals from civil society organisations on the drafting of the constitution and convincing figures who opted to boycott the assembly to rejoin its ranks.

Members of the committee are former Grand Mufti of Egypt Nasr Farid Wassel, professor of political science Nadia Mostafa, political analyst and MP Wahid Abdel-Meguid, professor of political science El-Moetz Abdel-Fattah, chairman of the People's Assembly's Complaints Committee Talaat Marzouk,  poet and writer Farouk Giwida, spokesman of the Salafist El-Nour Party Nader Bakar, Islamist MP Mohamed El-Beltagi, and professor of political science Abdel-Fattah Khattab.

El-Beltagi and Abdel-Meguid will take charge of negotiating with those members who boycotted the meetings of the assembly. The next meeting of the assembly is due to be held 4 April.

Today's assembly meeting was held despite that one third of the assembly's members decided to withdraw in protest against the methods of its formation. Some 75 members decided to attend, including El-Katatni, chairman of the Shura Council Ahmed Fahmi and most of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and Salafist Al-Nour Party MPs. Hossam El-Ghirani, chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Emad Hussin, chairman of Police Academy, and poet Farouk Giwida also attended.

El-Katatni won the chairmanship unopposed after he got 71 votes out of 72 members who participated in the process. El-Katatni said he has high hopes that the assembly's members who decided to boycott the meeting will rejoin its ranks, adding that "if this faced a difficulty, we would resort to choosing from 40 figures who were elected to serve as a reserve."

The meeting, which was headed at first by Islamist thinker Mohamed Emara as the oldest in age, saw significant divisions. Deputies of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) sharply criticised members who opted to boycott the assembly, emphasising that the assembly "should not submit to the pressure of the dictatorship of the minority." Other liberal-oriented members such as Al-Ahram writer and poet Farouk Giwida called for negotiations with the boycotting members to reach consensus.

The first to take the floor was political analyst Wahid Abdel-Meguid who asked for the to be postponed meeting for some time until the ruling military council helps create common ground among the different forces within the assembly. "We could just prepare a roadmap about the business of the assembly and wait to see what will be the result of negotiations aimed at closing the gap of differences," said Abdel-Meguid. Nonetheless, Abdel-Meguid decided to walk out of the meeting in protest at the procedure of electing El-Katatni.

Ahmed Fahmi, chairman of Shura Council, said he is in agreement with Abdel-Meguid, but added: "Let us at least elect a chairman of the assembly in this meeting."

Hussein Ibrahim, the FJP's parliamentary spokesman, said: "It is enough to elect a chairman and reach an agreement on the instruments of the assembly's business the in next weeks and we hope that all of our colleagues to join the next meeting."

Yehia El-Dakrour, chairman of the Club of judges at the State Council, said: "The meeting should be postponed because its 100 members should attend as dictated by Article 60 of the Constitutional Declaration."

FJP senior leader Essam El-Erian, however, begged to differ, arguing that "If we waited until 100 members attend the meetings of the assembly, we would never be able to plunge into the business of drafting Egypt's new constitution."

Prominent poet and journalist Farouk Giwida said he has high hopes that 15 MPs who are members of the assembly would be replaced by high-profile constitutional law professors such as Ibrahim Darwish, Tharwat Badawi, Hossam Eissa, Yehia El-Gamaal and Aisha Rateb. "I am ready to be the first to abandon my seat in the assembly to be replaced by a constitutional law professor," he said.

Agreeing with Giwida, Essam Sultan, deputy chairman of the moderate Islamist Al-Wasat Party, argued: "Consensus should be secured first, as a priority before any meetings of the assembly are held." Sultan said he is also ready to give up his seat so that a qualified non-parliamentarian join the assembly. Sultan also walked out in protest at the procedure of electing El-Katatni.

Nadia Mostafa, a professor of political science, proposed: "The number of the members of the assembly should be completed and that members prepare presentations on the roadmap of the assembly in the next period." "We should draw up a programme about the business of the assembly, ensure that it is completely independent, forge contacts with all sectors of society and agree on the procedures necessary for voting on each article of the new constitution."

Ali Fathi El-Bab, the FJP's parliamentary spokesman in Shura Council, said: "All those who decided to boycott the meetings of the assembly opted to do so via television channels rather than informing the assembly in an official way." El-Bab said it is difficult to ask 15 parliamentarians to forego their seats in the assembly in favour of non-parliamentarians, "because these parliamentarians were elected in a fair way in the joint meeting of the People's Assembly and Shura Council."

Mohamed El-Beltagi, a FJP MP, said: "It is completely untrue that the assembly is unrepresentative of Egyptian society." "The assembly includes 12 university professors, 18 constitutional law professors, six heads of professional syndicates and representatives of young people and women." El-Beltagi said he made tremendous efforts in the last two days to convince liberal members not to boycott the assembly's meetings.

Sobhi Saleh, another FJP member, warned that "The assembly should not fall a hostage to the dictatorship of the minority," and that its meetings "should go forward irrespective of any boycotts."

In concluding remarks, El-Katatni argued that, "The days when constitutions were drafted behind closed doors are gone, and we have an obligation to crystallise the new constitution in a way that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people."

El-Katatni said the doors of the hearing sessions of the assembly would be opened to allow representatives of professional syndicates and trade unions and chambers of commerce to voice their opinions.

"Representatives of all political forces will be allowed to attend and we will set up an electronic website to receive all proposals from all sectors of society. "Women, young people and families from Nubia and Sinai, Marsa Matruh and Shalatin will be summoned to listen to their views, not to mention representatives of farmers and workers, artists and thinkers," said El-Katatni.

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