Strong Egypt Party: Centralisation, presidential powers, worry Islamist democrats

Zeinab El Gundy , Sunday 18 Nov 2012

Democratic Islamist Abul-Fotouh's new party has joined the opposition to the draft constitution, voicing concerns about lack of socio-economic rights and provisions against torture

The recently-established Strong Egypt Party has been criticised by other liberal and leftist parties for its absence from the growing movement against Egypt's Constituent Assembly, which has been tasked with drafting a new constitution. The party, which has been active since the summer, finally declared its opposition to the draft constitution – the assembly's handiwork – at its official launch two weeks ago.

"All this time we had been forced to overlook the flaws in the Constituent Assembly's formation in order to end the current constitutional void," Ahmed Emam, member of the party's political communication committee, said at a recent press conference. "We waited all that time so as to see the assembly's final product, which, unfortunately, is deeply flawed."

Party spokesman Ahmed Samir told Ahram Online: "We don't reject the current formation of the Constituent Assembly simply because it represents one political power more than others. We reject it for more objective reasons, like the fact that it fails to represent Egyptian society – not politically, but socially – as when it comes to the poor representation of women and the disabled, for instance, and the lack of constitutional experts in the assembly."

The party – which doesn't have any members in the assembly – held a meeting on Saturday with members of the moderate-Islamist Wasat Party (which is represented in the assembly) to discuss Egypt's current draft constitution and present its perspective on the constitution-drafting body.

Founder of the Strong Egypt party Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh also met with President Mohamed Morsi earlier on Sunday to discuss the political crisis surrounding Egypt's post-revolutionary constitution, and to explain his party’s rejection of the proposed draft.

That presidential meeting was followed on Monday by another for youth activists to present their views on the constitution deadlock, attended by party members Mohamed El-Shahawy and Mohamed Othman.

"We hope our concerns reach the Constituent Assembly and are considered," Ahmed Samir told Ahram Online.

In a 30-page report, the party covered the draft constitution in detail, highlighting articles it opposed and proposing modifications and new articles.

The report argued that the draft charter violates the original social justice goals of the January 25 Revolution by ignoring citizens' social and economic rights, in particular those of the poor and the disabled.

It also criticised the lack of articles combating discrimination in Egypt among citizens in terms of compulsory military service, retirement age and eligibility to stand in elections linked to education. Discrimination based on social class and level of education can affect the treatment of military conscripts in Egypt; in addition, candidacy in elections to the Shura Council, Egypt's upper legislative chamber, is restricted to university graduates.

The Strong Egypt Party's report also joins a number of human rights organisations in decrying the lack of constitutional provisions criminalising torture.

The report also rejects the maintenance of a presidential system and the powers given to the president, as proposed in the draft.

"Having a presidential system is another thing the party rejects, and we have vowed to reject the whole constitution if the Constituent Assembly insists on keeping this," Samir told Ahram Online. The party has been calling for a mixed presidential and parliamentary system instead.

In their meeting with Morsi on Monday, the representatives of the party voiced their objections to the proposed presidential system, and explained their request that the voting system within the Constituent Assembly be changed. Currently, an article may be approved by 57 per cent of assembly members. The Strong Egypt Party has joined many other political groups in criticising this voting system and proposing a 67 per cent level of approval for articles instead, to avoid Islamist domination.

Popular pro-revolutionary Facebook page 'We are all Khaled Said' launched a campaign in September aimed at securing this change.

The Strong Egypt Party has also taken a strong stand on freedoms in the draft constitution. The party has strongly rejected the provision in the new draft that grants Al-Azhar constitutional status as a religious overseer in relation to Islamic issues, and criticised such articles as a threat to Egyptian culture, diversity and religious freedoms.

 In its report, the party demanded that the upcoming constitution respect the diversity of Egyptian society, whether cultural, ethnic or religious, hinting out that this would not contradict the second article in the constitution, which states that Islam is the religion of Egypt and the principles of sharia (Islamic law) are the source of Egyptian legislation.

The party is also concerned about the centralisation of state authority in the draft constitution.  One of the key elements of the party's platform is supporting decentralisation of some powers to governorate level.

The draft constitution also proposes instituting a Nation Defence Council, which would include top ministers and military officials and would be responsible for taking decisions at times of emergency. The Strong Egypt Party has firmly rejected this proposal, and warned that the army-related draft articles risk putting the armed forces outside the jurisdiction and supervision of elected authorities in Egypt.

The new draft constitution is expected to be finalised later this week, and amendments to the draft are also expected.

"We will wait for the new draft in order to revise it and see if there are amendments of which the party will approve," Samir told Ahram Online.

"If the upcoming draft constitution does not include our amendments and is the same as the current one, we will continue to reject it," the official spokesperson stated.

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