By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: The Free Egyptians, Al-Karama and the Egyptian Socialist parties alongside the Kefaya Movement and the National Association For Change (NAC) decided to boycott Friday’s protest, while other parties remained undecided, awaiting the Cabinet’s final amendments to a controversial constitutional principles document.
“We will hold a meeting after the Cabinet makes its announcement to decide whether we will participate in the mass protests,” Tarek Al-Zomor, a leading member of the Building and Development party, the political arm of Al-Gamaa Al-Islameya, told Daily News Egypt.
“We need to be sure that the amendments on the charter have officially been approved by the Cabinet with no changes,” he added.
Wahid Abdel Meguid, head of the coordinating committee of the 10-party Democratic Alliance, agreed, saying that there would be no point in holding mass protests if the amendments proposed by Deputy Prime Minister Ali El-Selmy were approved by Cabinet.
El-Selmy had proposed several amendments in a meeting with political powers on Tuesday. Attendees said controversial articles giving the military powers over elected officials were removed.
But before the final announcement on Wednesday the Free Egyptians, Al-Karama and Egyptian Socialist parties plus Kefaya and NAC decided to steer clear of the planned protests.
“The Cabinet told us that it would approve the amendments, so there’s no point in participating in the mass protests,” Mohamed Hamed, member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party, told DNE.
He said that only the Islamist parties and some groups were participating in the Nov. 18 protest because they were completely against the idea of constitutional principles and the establishment of a civil state.
Karima Al-Hifnawy, a member of Kefaya and NAC, agreed saying that most of the parties approved a charter of general principles guaranteeing people’s civil rights and freedoms.
“We have reservations on the charter proposed by the Cabinet regarding the military’s authority but we approve the rest of the charter,” she added.
On the other hand, the Salafi Al-Nour Party, the Freedom and Justice Party, and other Islamist parties said they would decide their stance regarding the protests following Cabinet’s announcement.
Al-Zomor and Abdel Meguid stressed that the charter must be advisory and non-binding.
However, Hamed voiced a different opinion saying that the charter had to be binding in order to guarantee the establishment of a civil state, otherwise it is useless.
On his part, Yousry Hammad, spokesman of the Salafi Al-Nour Party, said his party would accept a binding charter as long as it cited general freedoms and principles agreed on by all political powers, while removing the controversial articles giving SCAF domination.
“However, if the Cabinet insists on forcing (El-Selmy’s) charter on us, we will take to the streets and participate in Friday’s mass protests,” Hammad added.
The Cabinet’s press office told DNE that the ministers were holding a routine meeting on Wednesday but declined to confirm if the amended document was on the agenda.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said Wednesday that discussion of the amendments was ongoing, adding that it was positive, according to the official MENA news agency.
Political forces had given the ruling military council until Wednesday to withdraw the proposed document, threatening to hold mass protests on Friday.
The amendments discussed in Tuesday’s meeting include articles 9 and 10 of the controversial document proposed by Cabinet earlier this month. Changes include the guidelines governing the selection of the constituent assembly which will be responsible for drafting the constitution and other powers given to SCAF over the constituent assembly.
“The idea of a charter of constitutional principles was proposed to guarantee the civil and citizenship rights of the people not to guarantee the military’s authority,” Hamed said.
Article 9 guarantees the secret nature of the military budget and prevents the People’s Assembly (PA) from scrutinizing it. Hamed said that political powers agreed with the Cabinet that the military budget would be discussed by the national security committee which is part of the PA.
According to El-Selmy’s initial charter, the new parliament will elect the 100-member constituent assembly, which will consist of 80 members from outside the parliament and 20 elected MPs reflecting the percentage of seats of their parties.
The charter detailed the number of representatives of each public authority. The parliament would choose from nominations presented by these very authorities, which include the judiciary, professional syndicates, Al-Azhar, the church and the military.
“This is completely unacceptable. The only viable restriction in choosing the assembly is that it represents all Egyptian factions without setting specific numbers,” Al-Zomor said.
On the other hand, the April 6 Youth Movement maintained that it would participate in mass protests on Friday for a different set of demands.
“Our protest has nothing to do with El-Selmy’s (proposed) charter of constitutional principles,” Mahmoud Afify, April 6 spokesman, said.
“We’ve been calling for the protest alongside the campaign supporting presidential hopeful Hazem Abou Ismail long before El-Selmy’s charter was even issued,” he added.
Their demands include calling on SCAF to hand over power to civilian rule no later than May 2012 and putting an end to military trials for civilians.