By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Political powers are divided on the criteria for electing members of the constituent assembly that would draft the constitution, as the two houses of parliament are scheduled to hold their first joint session on Saturday.
A proposal by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which holds around 47 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly, which suggests that 40 of the 100-member assembly are MPs, sparked controversy among political parties.
“The 100 members should be non-parliamentarians,” said Nabil Zaki, spokesman of the leftist Al-Tagammu Party. “The constitution is the foundation of all authorities so it decides on the powers of the legislative authority and not vice versa.”
Zaki also believes the constitution should cancel the upper house of parliament for being useless but, he says, this cannot happen if members of the Shoura Council participated in drafting it.
“The constitutional declaration stated that the parliament would elect members of the constituent assembly which doesn’t mean that they would choose its members from among themselves,” he said.
While Zaki believes that the appeal issued against the constitutionality of the parliament would affect the constitution if MPs drafted it, Sobhy Saleh, an FJP MP who was part of the constitutional amendments committee, refuted these claims.
“The appeal is on the constitutionality of an article that allowed members of political parties to run in elections on the one third of the parliament allocated for individuals. Although the verdict in such cases is not applied retroactively, if this happened it will not topple the whole parliament; the elections would be repeated in constituencies that elected these MPs,” Saleh said.
He explained that the constitution stated that the parliament needs at least 350 members to be constitutional; 498 were elected through a staggered process that started in November.
The military council-issued constitutional declaration doesn’t specify the makeup of the assembly. Attempts to suggest criteria for the selection of members were rejected last year, for being bundled with binding constitutional principles that grant the military special treatment. Critics also said back then that the suggested criteria guarantee representation of state institutions rather than sectors of society.
Wafiq El-Ghitany, senior Al-Wafd Party member, said that all sectors of the society should be represented in the committee that would draft the constitution so that it would be a constitution for the people and not for a changing political majority.
Basel Adel, Free Egyptians Party MP, echoed El-Ghitany’s opinion.
“MPs might add articles that are in line with their political ideologies which might cause conflict when the parliament tries to amend these articles or issue further legislations,” Adel said.
As the liberal and leftist parties believe that MPs should steer clear of the constituent assembly, the Salafi A-Nour Party, however, criticized the meager representation of members of parliament in the assembly in the FJP’s proposal.
“We believe that the vast majority of the assembly’s members should be MPs who were elected by the people,” said Yousri Hammad, spokesman of Al-Nour, which came second to the FJP in elections.
“We can seek the help of non-MPs when it comes to scientific specializations that are unavailable in parliament.”
A compromise between the two suggestions could be reached, according to Khaled Tellima, member of the Revolution Youth Coalition.
“Each party in parliament can be represented by one member in the assembly. And the remaining members can be elected from outside parliament,” he said.
Criteria of the assembly
Representatives of most parties agreed that the judicial entities, university professors, NGOs, professional and trade unions, industrial and commerce unions, people with special needs, Copts, women and youth should form the majority of the 100 members of the constituent assembly.
Members of these entities would nominate those they believe are competent to convey their needs in the constitution, they suggested.
Saleh, on the other hand, believes that this does not mean that they shouldn’t be MPs.
“One member can comprise three of these criteria. He can be a Copt who is a legal expert with a political affiliation,” he said. “It is much easier than they are trying to make it seem.”
Tarek Al-Malt, spokesman of Al-Wasat Party, said that the main criteria for selecting the members of the assembly is their ability to handle such sensitive matters, their ability to communicate with other ideologies, and that they do not repeat an already represented mainstream.
Political powers also do not agree on a time frame for drafting the constitution.
Saleh agreed with Zaki and Hammad that the constituent assembly should be able to draft the constitution in its final version after people’s approval before announcing the president who will be elected on May 23-24.
“There is already a consensus among political powers on about 70 percent of the constitution’s articles,” Saleh claimed.
The FJP has a proposed vision for the constitution by gathering what is legally known as the common heritage of mankind, according to Saleh.
“In this we stated the approved issues like the state’s identity and the independence of judiciary,” he said.
For months after the revolution, the question of identity steadily topped the political debate leading to a state of polarization, with an Islamic state on one end and a civil on one the other. Egypt’s Grand Mufti had said that Islam is not at odds with civil state.
But aside for the debate, many political forces find it difficult to draft a constitution and hold a referendum on it in a couple of months. Upon assuming power in February last year, member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said the process would take from a year to a year and a half.
Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh, presidential hopeful, said that the constitution should not be drafted in a month or two before the presidential elections, urging parliament not to rush in the formation of the constituent assembly.
He said in an interview Wednesday on Dream TV that the constitutional referendum on March 19 gave the parliament a period of six months to form the constituent assembly so that there is societal and political dialogue on how to form it.
Al-Malt and Tellima echoed Abol Fotoh’s opinion, saying that the constitution should be widely discussed with the public before a referendum is called on it particularly that it will be a “take it or leave it” referendum.
The referendum would be on the whole constitution, not on article-by-article basis.