On verge of consensus, rifts reemerge over Egypt's Constituent Assembly

Ahram Online, Monday 11 Jun 2012

After last week's breakthrough, liberal parties charge that their Islamist counterparts are again attempting to monopolise Egypt's constitution-drafting process

Egyptian parliament members elect now-defunct constituent assembly in March(Photo:AP)

Liberal political parties say their Islamist counterparts have retreated from last week's agreement over the structure of Egypt's Constituent Assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – only one day before parliament plans to issue a new Constituent Assembly Law.

Farid Zahran, a leader of the liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said that Islamist parties had reneged on an agreement reached last week, according to which the 100-member body would be divided evenly between Islamist and non-Islamist figures.

Zahran said that liberal Egyptian parties had received a telephone call from a representative of Islamist parties informing them that the 22 assembly members to be drawn from non-political entities would be counted as part of the assembly's non-Islamist bloc.

According to Zahran, the assembly's Islamist bloc – dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist Nour Party – had rejected suggestions to divide the 22 members drawn from non-political entities equally between the two blocs.

Zahran also said that the Gamaa Al-Islamiya's Building and Development Party, which has given up its two seats in the assembly to ease negotiations, had submitted the names of Islamist candidates to the liberal bloc, further eroding non-Islamist representation in the constitution-drafting body.

Spokesmen for the liberal Free Egyptians party said that liberal bloc parties planned to meet Monday morning to adopt a unified stance on the latest developments.

Egypt's parliament will convene on Monday morning to issue a Constituent Assembly Law based on the agreement reached last week, after Egypt's ruling military council gave parties a 48-hour deadline to end the weeks-long deadlock over assembly membership. The military council had warned that, if a mutually-acceptable agreement was not reached, the council would unilaterally issue a new constitutional declaration or revive the suspended 1971 constitution.

On Wednesday, agreement was reached between political parties represented in parliament on the final structure of the Constituent Assembly.

It was agreed that 39 of the assembly's 100 seats would be reserved for political parties, of which the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) would hold 16; 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 moderate-Islamist 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 also agreed that the assembly would include 15 judges, nine religious figures (five from Al-Azhar and four from Christian churches), ten public figures, ten revolutionary youth figures (including both men and women), seven members of workers' and farmers' unions, seven members of professional syndicates, and one representative each from the police, army and justice ministry.

Following lengthy negotiations, it was finally decided last week that the assembly would include a 50-50 ratio of Islamist to non-Islamist members.

Each constitutional article, meanwhile, is to be approved by consensus. If no consensus is possible, then they will require the approval of 67 members. If this is impossible, the vote will be delayed for 48 hours, after which the article in question can be approved by a 57-member majority.

Wednesday's agreement, which was received positively by both Islamist and non-Islamist parties, had sought to end a weeks-long rift over assembly membership.

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. 

Short link: