Egypt's Constituent Assembly wins back four liberal members

Ahram Online, Saturday 29 Sep 2012

Egypt's constitution-writing body sees the return of four members who, among others, earlier walked out protesting Islamist domination of the assembly's makeup

Egyptian parliamentarians cast ballots in March to select the 100-member constituent assembly panel later disbanded by a court order (Photo: AP)

Egypt's Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting a new constitution, has regained four members who recently walked out in protest against Islamist monopolisation of seats.

Constitutional law professor Gaber Gad Nassar, general coordinator of the National Association for Change (NAC) Abdel-Gelil Mostafa, head of the National Council for Woman's economic committee Soaad Kamel Rizk and Coptic Christian scholar Samir Morcos, had pulled out six hours after the assembly's second formation, protesting what they deemed the assembly's factional and unbalanced makeup, said returning member Abdel-Gelil Mostafa.

He noted that their seats had remained vacant until their return.

"We have decided to take on our role amid apprehension that has gripped the masses over the drafting, which threatens Egypt's culture and manner of living," added Mostafa.

According to a statement issued today, their u-turn came after the Constituent Assembly formed an advisory committee comprising a host of leading public figures.

The writing of the constitution has reached a critical juncture that requires those who walked out to yield to the calls of the public to engage in drawing up a constitution that balances authorities and preserves rights and freedoms without prejudice towards any faction or political or intellectual current, added the statement.

The members, however, underscored they will take up any stance their conscience dictates, so as to pursue the ultimate goal of writing a constitution that represents Egypt's cultural and historical pluralism.

The statement highlighted that the members' return is aimed at pursuing this goal by first electing substitute members in vacant seats to strike a balance in the assembly's makeup, and second, setting up a technical advisory commission comprising law and constitutional experts and independent intellectuals.

The makeup of the Constituent Assembly has been locked in stalemate since April when a court ordered the dissolution of a first, short-lived assembly because it was dominated by Islamists and failed to fairly represent Egypt's diverse social groups.

Most liberals and leftists have withdrawn from the second, replacement assembly, deeming it biased towards Islamists who dominated the dissolved People's Assembly that elected it.

The move by the four Assembly members comes as Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi and reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei called for boycotting the current constituent assembly on the grounds that it is incompetent during a meeting held on Friday.

The constitution-writing body held its first session in its reformed state 18 June. 

This Constituent Assembly has suffered a number of withdrawals since mid-June, when the Egyptian Bloc parties — including the Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party — initiated a mass walk-out, which was followed by the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Democratic Front Party.

Their stated reason for resigning from the assembly was to allow greater representation for women, young people and Coptic Christians, while also registering their objection to perceived "Islamist monopolisation" of the constitution-writing committee.

The troubled assembly still faces the risk of dissolution by court order on grounds that it was drawn up by the subsequently dissolved People's Assembly, the lower house of Egypt's parliament.

In October, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court is set to rule on the assembly's constitutionality.

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