By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: While members of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting the constitution believe abiding by Al-Azhar’s document would solve the controversy over the assembly’s make-up, members who have withdrawn, however, say it is not enough.
Key members of the 100-member assembly said in their second meeting Wednesday that the only way out of the current crisis between them and members who walked out in objection is to clearly declare the panel’s commitment to consider Al-Azhar’s document a reference for their task as agreed last week in a meeting with the ruling military council.
Some 14 parties had agreed in the meeting with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to consider both the documents of Al-Azhar and the Democratic Alliance, the Freedom and Justice Party-led electoral coalition, as the reference for the work of the assembly that would draft Egypt’s new constitution.
“This talk is not binding to the Constituent Assembly. They can either take it or leave it,” Nabil Zaki, spokesman of the leftist Al-Tagammu Party that boycotted the procedures of electing the assembly, previously told Daily News Egypt. Al-Tagammu along with four other parties opposed the agreement.
Hassan Nafea, political science professor at Cairo University, believes that Islamists who dominate the assembly will not commit to Al-Azhar’s document.
“Al-Azhar itself walked out of the assembly because it realized that they [Islamists] are maneuvering to pass amendments that other streams would not accept,” he said.
The controversy over the formation of the Constituent Assembly escalated Tuesday when 21 members who had withdrawn insisted that the constituent assembly be reeclected according to clear criteria. The Islamist-dominated parliament had voted to divide the assembly equally between parliamentarians and public figures in a move deplored by liberals, secular-leaning forces and other institutions.
Both the church and Al-Azhar withdrew from the panel denouncing their meager representation and the domination of the assembly by Islamists, who control around 60 percent of the panel.
The 21 withdrawing members said in a statement that they would not retract their decision unless the parliament held another joint session to reelect members of the assembly based on clear criteria through which representatives of different sectors are selected and which guarantees that parliamentarians would not dominate it.
In Wednesday’s session, several members refused this demand, saying it would be a waste of precious time.
The latest transition timeline provided by SCAF would have made the drafting of the constitution before the presidential election. However, SCAF representative at the assembly, said the military would hand over power in June as promised whether or not the constitution was completed. The presidential election is set for May 24. The final result is to be announced on June 21.
“The justification they [members of the panel] gave for refusing to hold another parliamentary meeting is unacceptable. It is only one meeting, so time won’t be wasted,” said Ahmed Sayed El-Naggar, economist at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies who walked out of the assembly.
The withdrawing members said in their statement that in case the political forces that control the formation of the assembly insisted on the same logic that resulted in the crisis, the signatories along with the religious institutions, trade unions, political parties, and all the sectors of the nation would establish a parallel panel that would guarantee that all factions of society enjoy a fair representation in drafting the constitution.
Saad El-Katatny, PA speaker and head of the panel, set an April 10 deadline for the withdrawing members to determine their final stance, so that the panel could take a proper decision such as including some of the 40 back-up members.
Al-Wafd MP Margret Azer, who also withdrew, told DNE that she does not understand whether El-Katatny’s statement means more negotiations with them or a threat.
El-Katatny said that he would personally contact those who walked out of the panel because the assembly’s members are keen about their participation.
“Either way it is not a good sign,” she said. “The only way out of the crisis is that the majority dominating the assembly would approve the demands of those who withdrew, especially since some of them are established prestigious institutions.”
SCAF, the FJP and the parties that signed the agreement last week had proposed that the FJP give up 10 of its seats on the panel to the benefit of other groups.
“This is not enough because there are a number of institutions that aren’t represented at all,” Azer said.
Nafea said that there is no possibility that political powers would find an exit to the current situation since El-Katatny, his party the FJP and the Salafi Al-Nour Party are “stubborn.”
“We need creative ideas to work this out, but the inflexibility of the FJP and Al-Nour will not allow this,” he said.
“Some solutions suggest approving the demands of the withdrawn members by holding another parliamentary session to elect a new assembly with clearer criteria, elect an advisory committee that comprises legal experts, or to convince them to pledge that they would not resort to voting as a mechanism to pass or decline amendments or articles using their majority,” he said pointing out that he believes they will not accept these solutions which will lead to more tension.
Karim Abdel Razek, parliamentary expert, told the official news portal egynews.net that the solution to this crisis will be either political or legal.
Politically, he said, SCAF would have to issue a new Constitutional Declaration that sets clear criteria for the selection of the assembly and to call upon both houses of parliament to meet again to restructure the panel.
“Legally, the Supreme Administrative Court might rule against the validity of the formation of the assembly and therefore it would be restructured by the rule of law,” he said.