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SCAF gives parties 48 hours to resolve constituent assembly crisis

Military council gives political parties two days to decide on membership criteria for constituent assembly or else it will issue 'constitutional annex' or revive 1971 constitution

Ahram Online, Tuesday 5 Jun 2012
A file photo of the SCAF meeting with the political parties (Photo: Reuters)

After a meeting with Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Tuesday, political party representatives said that the council had given them a two-day period in which to issue a parliamentary decision on the membership criteria for Egypt's constituent assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – or else the SCAF would either issue a 'constitutional annex' or revive the 1971 constitution.

Party representatives and MPs who attended the meeting with the SCAF said they had refused a proposal to amend Article 60 of the Constitutional Declaration, which, if modified, would state that the constituent assembly should be appointed according to a set of criteria set by parliament, as opposed to its original text stating that assembly members should be directly elected by sitting MPs.

Party representatives announced that, if parliament failed to agree to issue viable membership criteria by Thursday, the SCAF had said it would unilaterally issue a 'constitutional annex' or revive Egypt's 1971 constitution, suspended since last year's Tahrir Square uprising.

Independent MP Mostafa Bakri said in the statement that party representatives who had attended the meeting would negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and other parties the issue of proposed legislation laying down membership criteria of the constituent assembly instead of amending the Constitutional Declaration.

The proposed amendment stipulates that the assembly include heads of parties represented in parliament; heads of judiciary bodies; elected heads of professional syndicates; and civil society representatives, in order to ensure the assembly is not dominated by a single political current. Twenty public figures representing women, young people and Copts would also be included, although exactly who would select them remains unclear.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the Salafist Nour Party, the liberal Wafd Party, the liberal Free Egyptians party, the Islamist Building and Development Party, the Reform and Development Party, the nationalist Karama Party, the leftist Taggamu Party, the Salafist Assala Party, the liberal Adl Party and the Democratic Front Party.

A number of independent MPs also attended the meeting, including Mostafa Bakry, Marianne Kamal, Yasser El-Kadi and Mohamed Abu-Hamed.  

Several parties, however, stated that they would not attend the meeting. The FJP stated on its official website that it was "not appropriate" to take part in such a meeting at the current juncture, given ongoing protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The Egyptian Social Democratic Party, headed by Mohamed Abul-Ghar, and the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party, headed by Abu-Ela Madi, also refrained from attending the meeting.

There will soon be negotiations – between the FJP, the Wasat Party and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party on one side, and the Nour Party and the Free Egyptians party on the other – aimed at reaching agreement on criteria regulating the constituent assembly. According to party representatives who met with the SCAF, talks will be held within the next 48 hours. 

Days after formation of the first constituent assembly in April, a mass walkout by non-Islamist members jeopardized the assembly's future. Members of liberal and leftist parties, prominent independent figures and representatives of professional and trade unions, as well as representatives of the Coptic Church and Islamic authority Al-Azhar, all pulled out of the constitution-drafting body, saying the assembly in its current form was "unrepresentative" of Egyptian society.

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