By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: The Islamist-dominated Shoura Council chose its presidents and two deputies Tuesday in a procedural vote after none of the members challenged the single candidate for each position.
Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) MP Ahmed Fahmy was elected president of the council in its first session. In his speech he promised to prioritize retribution to those killed and injured during the 2011 uprising and taking care of their families.
Representing the Sharqeya province, Fahmy was the sole candidate for the position, but the upper house of parliament went ahead with the secret balloting process nonetheless in accordance with bylaws.
While the FJP was expected to win the chairmanship of the lower house of parliament given its control of the majority, a number of MPs challenged its fielded candidate Saad El-Katatny during the elections last month. El-Katatny won by a landslide.
“Other political powers don’t think there’s any benefit from heading the Shoura Council which was a (mouth piece) for the former regime,” Journalists’ Syndicate board member Gamal Fahmy told Daily News Egypt.
Tarek Sahry of the salafi Al-Nour Party was elected as deputy representing the professionals, while Mostafa Hamouda of Al-Wafd Party was elected deputy representing the workers and farmers.
Both MPs were unchallenged as well, but voting also ensued.
The Upper House’s first session went smoothly, lacking the drama and tension the marred the first lower house (People’s Assembly) session held on Jan. 23. MPs who added phrases to the customary oath were not rebuked, but the additions were removed from the minutes.
The Shoura Council started its session, by standing for one minute in silence to mourn the martyrs who died during the 18-day revolt the toppled Hosni Mubarak and the other clashes that followed.
In a replication to the first session of the People’s Assembly (PA), several Salafi MPs, added to the official oath saying that “as long as it does not contradict God’s legislation,” as they swore to respect the constitution and the law. Other MPs added to the oath that they would serve the revolution’s goals.
FJP MP Mohamed Hassan El-Meleigy, who headed the first session as the oldest MP until Fahmy was elected, urged MPs to stick to the official oath in line with the constitution, scraping any addition to the oath from the session’s minutes.
Fahmy slammed the MPs saying that “the people didn’t elect them to impose God’s legislation, otherwise they would’ve been elected as preachers in a mosque,”
“They were elected to look after the people’s best interests,” he added.
However, Raafat Fouda, lawyer and professor of constitutional law in Cairo University voiced a different opinion, saying that the improvised oath represented the MPs’ political directions, which reflected hard-line Islamists in some cases.
“As long as they recite the official oath, despite the addition, it’s considered constitutional,” he said.
The Shoura Council like the PA, was dominated by Islamists who garnered over 80 percent of the upper house seats. Al-Nour and the FJP also dominated around 72 percent of the PA, representing the majority.
A total of 180 members of the Shoura Council have been elected, while the remaining 90, one third of the seats, will be appointed by the new elected President expected to take office on July.1.
The PA and Shoura Council will convene on Saturday morning to start procedures to elect the 100-member constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting the new constitution.
There has been speculation that the new constitution would abolish the Shoura Council completely, in response to calls from political powers including the Free Egyptians and the Egyptian Social Democratic Parties.
Critics deemed the Shoura elections a waste of time and money on an “honorary council” that had no real responsibilities.
“The turnout of the valid votes in the Shoura elections was (around) 7.5 percent. This shows that the Egyptian society isn’t ready to have two chambers of Parliament,” Fahmy said.
No more than 10 percent of eligible voters participated in the Shoura elections as appose to more than 50 percent in the PA elections.
However, Fouda argued that the low turnout represented the people’s view of the Shoura Council under the former corrupt regime, which stripped all legislative bodies of their authorities.
The upper house of parliament was initially established as an advisory council. Since a constitutional amendment in 2007, the Council has had limited legislative powers in approving laws related to the constitution and other issues.
“I believe that the responsibilities and jurisdiction of the Shoura Council should be amended in the new constitution so that it has equal responsibilities to the PA,” Fouda said.
Members of the Shoura Council also made it clear in several statements that they were elected to stay not be abolished in the new constitution.
“The Islamists will try to keep the Shoura Council to preserve their sweeping majority in both the PA and Shoura Council,” Fahmy said.
Fouda echoed Fahmy’s opinion that the Islamists would have an edge in electing the constituent assembly since they represented the majority against other political forces which remain divided and weak. –Additional reporting by Heba Hesham