Egypt parliament divided over proposed 'disfranchisement' law

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 11 Apr 2012

Lawmakers debate controversial draft law aimed at side-lining Mubarak-era figures from presidency race; Critics say bill targets Omar Suleiman

Essam Sultan
Essam Sultan

The People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament) devoted a special session on Wednesday afternoon to discussing proposed legislation aimed at prohibiting figures associated with ousted president Hosni Mubarak from contesting upcoming presidential elections. The assembly reportedly decided to convene after several MPs expressed fears that the bill, drafted by the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, might be ruled unconstitutional.

"The problem is that the bill contradicts Article 26 of the constitutional declaration [issued in March of last year by the ruling military council and approved via popular referendum], which does not set any conditions on the presidency," said Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Mohamed Attia. "Once the law is passed by the assembly, it must be scrutinised by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) to determine its constitutionality."

Echoing the opinion of most MPs, Attia added that "any undue haste in passing the law will make people think it was tailored to serve the needs of a particular group or to prevent a particular person from contesting the presidency."

With surprising speed on Monday, the assembly's legislative and constitutional affairs committee approved the draft law, the final text of which reads: "It is forbidden for anyone who occupied leading positions during the ten years before 11 February 2011 [the day of Mubarak's ouster], either in the presidency or in the now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), to serve as president of the republic, vice president or prime minister for a ten-year period."

The draft law, submitted by Wasat Party MP Essam Sultan, is a modified version of Law 131 of 2011, which calls for corrupt officials to be removed from leading public positions.

Addressing the assembly on Sunday, Sultan accused Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief and one-time vice-president, of corruption. He added that Suleiman – who officially launched his presidential bid the same day – "must be prevented from contesting the presidency at all costs."

Sultan added: "The first step in this direction will be in the form of drafting a law aimed at stopping the likes of Suleiman from entering elections."

On Monday morning, the assembly's proposals and complaints committee discussed Sultan's draft law before passing it on to the legislative and constitutional affairs committee. On Tuesday morning, Sultan's draft was rammed through the latter committee, even though it faced objections levelled by the justice minister and independent MPs who expressed concerns as to its constitutionality.

According to Sultan, last year's Tahrir Square uprising aimed at overhauling Egypt's political system, in terms of both policy and personalities. "It's not logical that figures associated with the former corrupt regime be allowed to run in presidential elections, since they will no doubt adopt the same policies as the former regime," he said.

Many believe the bill was prepared by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which dominates both houses of parliament. So as not to be accused of tailoring laws to serve the party's particular interests, Wasat's Sultan was tasked with submitting the bill. The FJP, which has fielded its own presidential candidate, believes Suleiman is being fielded by the military as a counterweight to its own recent political ascendancy.  

At the meeting of the legislative and constitutional affairs committee, Justice Minister Adel Abdel-Hamid asked why the draft law was being proposed at such a critical juncture. "Why was it proposed only after certain figures announced presidential bids?" he wondered aloud.

Abdel-Hamid went on to argue that the law, if passed, would strip citizens from exercising their political rights. "Constitutionally speaking, no one can be stripped of their political rights except by judicial order," he asserted. "For this reason, I expect that the SCC will find the draft law to be in violation of the constitution."

Voicing agreement with Abdel-Hamid, Deputy Justice Minister for Legislative Affairs Omar El-Sherif described the bill as "unclear" and "incongruous with last year's constitutional declaration."

Several lawmakers, too, criticised the draft legislation, including independent MP Mostafa Bakri, who argued that the bill appeared "tailored to serve the interests of a particular group." Bakri went on to condemn the way the draft law was being rammed through parliament, comparing it to the way Mubarak's ruling NDP had dealt with legislation.

Sultan, in response, declared: "If this law is not endorsed by the ruling military council, it will be a message to the Egyptian people that Omar Suleiman is the military council's candidate." He added: "The law must be issued by parliament first; the SCC can revise it later." 

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