Egyptian Popular Current: Seeking a more representative Constituent Assembly

Randa Ali , Sunday 18 Nov 2012

While Hamdeen Sabbahi's Egyptian Popular Current has major reservations about the draft constitution, its primary focus is reforming Egypt's Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting new national charter

The first draft of Egypt's post-revolution constitution has been received coolly by a number of Egyptian political groups following its publication on 10 October. One of these is the Egyptian Popular Current (EPC), which has consistently voiced opposition to the Islamist-led Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new national charter.

"Our main problem is that the Constituent Assembly is not representative of all Egyptians," EPC media spokesperson Heba Yassin told Ahram Online.

The Constituent Assembly has been frequently criticised for its large proportion of Islamist-leaning members, which comes at the expense, detractors say, of Egypt's other political forces.

Yassin pointed out that EPC founder Hamdeen Sabbahi, at a Saturday meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, had focused primarily on the need to reform the assembly's membership.

"We're demanding the assembly's reformation to ensure that it's balanced and preserves and reflects the diversity of Egyptian society," the EPC spokesperson said.

In September, Sabbahi, along with Constitution Party co-founder Mohamed ElBaradei, issued a joint statement accusing the assembly of discarding the economic and social rights of Egyptians.

The statement went on to urge all assembly members affiliated with parties or forces concerned with Egypt's wellbeing to withdraw from the constitution-drafting body.

The EPC believes that the draft constitution neither preserves nor reflects workers' and peasants' social rights, Yassin told Ahram Online. She did not, however, explain how this was reflected in the current draft charter.

According to Yassin, the EPC has also voiced reservations regarding draft constitutional articles pertaining to presidential authorities, which, they say, grant the presidency excessive powers – beyond even those mentioned in the previous 1971 constitution.

"In the new draft, the president is charged with appointing all the heads of state oversight agencies, which are supposed to be responsible for monitoring his [the president's] performance," said Yassin.

"The president is also given authority to appoint the head judges at the High Constitutional Court (HCC), which represents a threat to the independence of Egypt's judiciary," she added.

On 16 October, a press conference was held by HCC judges who voiced their objections to draft articles that pertain to the court, asserting that these were unnecessarily vague and allowed for direct interference in judicial affairs.

Yassin also stressed that the EPC was demanding that the new constitution ensure the rights of women and children.

On Monday, the movement released a statement expressing its opposition to draft Article 67, which is devoted to children's' rights.

The statement criticised the ambiguity of the article, which fails to specify the age of the children to which it applies. The statement warned that the article's vagueness would affect 38 per cent of the Egyptian population, which are children under the age of 18.

"Not stating the age leaves this assessment up to lawmakers, who can unilaterally decide the appropriate age for marriage, military service, legal punishments, etc," the statement read.

The EPC statement also called for the article to include wording explicitly safeguarding children from sexual and physical abuse.

"If the state isn't responsible for offering health insurance to children and providing adequate healthcare, this will only result in an increase of disease among children," the statement read, noting that child mortality was increasing in Egypt due to the lack of free healthcare.

A number of parties and groups opposed to the current draft constitution have drawn up their own lists of recommendations and suggested amendments. According to Yassin, however, the EPC is focussing primarily on the need to reform the Constituent Assembly's membership.

A new draft constitution is expected to be unveiled later this month. But the troubled assembly still faces the risk of dissolution by court order on grounds that its membership was selected by the People's Assembly, the since-dissolved lower house of Egypt's parliament.

On 23 October, the Supreme Administrative Court referred a lawsuit challenging the assembly's constitutionality to the HCC. While the decision has put the assembly's future in doubt, it has also given it time to complete the constitutional drafting process – which will eventually include a popular referendum on the draft charter – before a final court ruling can be delivered.

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