Fresh withdrawals threaten Constituent Assembly

Ahram Online, Wednesday 14 Nov 2012

Egypt’s constitution-drafting assembly suffers new withdrawal threats by members angry at way process is being managed and because they object to two-week deadline imposed for charter to be completed

File photo: A general view of the two chambers of parliament meeting to elect the 100 members of the constituent assembly in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

Thirteen Constituent Assembly members boycotted Tuesday’s meeting and said they would not play any further role at the constitution-drafting body. Some threatened to withdraw completely. 

The thirteen members said they took action in protest at the way debates were being managed.  

Among the thirteen are former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa, liberal Wafd Party leader Sayed Badawi and Ghad Al-Thawra Party leader Ayman Nour.

They also announced they would not accept the first section of the constitution on basic principles, which was approved at Tuesday's session, Al-Ahram Arabic news website reported. 

Furthermore, they called for the assembly to continue its work for an extra three months and threatened to withdraw from the assembly within 48 hours if their demands were not met.

On 8 November, around one third of assembly members threatened to withdraw due to the two-week deadline imposed for the constitution to be finished. They argued that this was insufficient time to complete the task. 

According to state-owned news agency MENA, assembly member Soad Kamel officially withdrew on Tuesday in protest at what she described as the monopolisation of the assembly by “one force,” i.e. Islamists.

Meanwhile, secretary-general of the Journalists’ Syndicate Gamal Fahmy stated during a press conference on Tuesday that their representatives might withdraw from the assembly in protest at draft articles he claimed would violate press freedom and freedom of speech.

Fahmy added that the assembly had continuously ignored proposals made by syndicate members.

He demanded an article protecting media independence be included in the constitution.

Fahmy, who writes for Al-Tahrir newspaper, was among a number of prominent journalists who in August left they columns blank in protest at what they said was an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to control state-owned newspapers and publications.

The beleaguered assembly has already suffered a number of withdrawals since 11 June, when the 'Egyptian Bloc' parties – including the Free Egyptians, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and the leftist Tagammu Party – initiated a walk-out, followed by the Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Democratic Front Party, to allow greater representation for women, young people and Coptic Christians, while also registering their objection to "Islamist monopolisation" of the assembly.

In late September, Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi and reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei also called for a boycott of the assembly because it was “incompetent.”

The assembly is still facing the risk of dissolution by court order due to a case challenging the constitutionality of the law which set the criteria for choosing its members. The 100 assembly members were chosen by the now-dissolved parliament, which was ruled unconstitutional by the High Constitutional Court (HCC) in mid-June.   

On 23 October, the Supreme Administrative Court referred the lawsuit challenging the assembly's constitutionality to the HCC, which is yet to issue its verdict. It has been claimed that some assembly members are attempting to draft the constitution quickly and submit it for a national referendum before the court issues its verdict.

The first assembly was dissolved in April after a court ruling stated it was not representative of Egyptian society. The same criticism is being directed at the current constitution-drafting body. 

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