A demonstration is planned for Saturday in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court in protest at the upcoming constitution drafting, a core point of contention for a number of activists and political parties with fears that the process will result in a document that stifles basic freedoms.
Elected members of both the Peoples Assembly (lower house of parliament) and the Shura Council (upper house) are scheduled to hold a third and final joint session on Saturday in which they will elect the 100 member Constituent Assembly (CA) who will be entrusted with drafting Egypt's post-January 25th revolution constitution.
The issue at the heart of the protest is the shift in position by the Egyptian parliament whose members decided that instead of the CA being comprised of a 40/60 parliamentarian and non- parliamentarian make up respectively; which most parties especially the liberal ones where in agreement of, it is now a 50/50 option.
The change in numbers came after the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, changed from its earlier position.
Hussein Ibrahim the parliamentary spokesman for the FJP stated the change in position was in response to the demands by the ultraconservative Islamist Nour Party who had demanded a 60/40 divide between MPs and non-parliamentarians. As both the FJP and Nour Party won most of the seats in the lower house they would've had a bigger say in the drafting of the constitution.
Met with anger
The FJP's turnabout was met with anger by many and failed to convince as a legitimate reason given that representatives of both the FJP and Nour Party had held closed door meetings in which approval of the 50/50 was agreed on and then easily passed when put to the vote with 472 of the 585 MPs present approving the motion.
According to parliamentary sources quoted by Al Ahram media the numbers have already been decided. “The FJP and Nour Party have agreed that 15 FJP deputies from the People's Assembly, five FJP members from the Shura Council, seven Nour Party deputies from the People's Assembly and three from the Shura Council will sit on the Constituent Assembly.
"The Wafd Party will be represented by four People's Assembly deputies and one Shura Council member, with the 15 remaining places for parliamentarians divided between MPs from other parties and independents.”
An opponent in support of the demonstration and preferring to remain anonymous said: “Parliament...have decided they have the right to make up 50 per cent of the 100-people assembly that will write the constitution – the document that determines the principles on which this country will be based and how its laws will be made.
"This document will govern our lives for many years to come. It will outlive the current parliament and the coming president. The assembly writing the constitution must be dominated by constitutional experts, must represent all segments of society, and MPs cannot simply decide they want to rule out whomever they wish (such as Mohamed Baradei) from joining the committee.”
The main issue that is worrying activists and liberals alike is the 50/50 makeup that would favour a more religious constitution, with laws that would curtail personal freedoms, civil liberties, further fan sectarian divisions and downgrade women's rights.
Adding to the fears is the widely held belief that the ruling SCAF is currently also working behind closed doors with the Islamists to ensure their interests are preserved – any new constitution would define the role of the army in Egypt's future one the ruling military would prefer to see unchanged.
Already some 17 liberal activists and legal experts have gone to court saying they seek a "stronger public voice in writing the constitution". In their lawsuit they state "The parliament has violated the principle of equality when it has given itself the right to make up half of the constituent assembly that will write the constitution.”
Liberal political expert Hassan Nafaa in an interview stated, “This mechanism obviously raises doubts about the desire of the parliamentary majority of seeking to dominate the process of writing the constitution.
"With this majority belonging to an ideological trend whose commitments to democracy and rotation of power are questioned, there are fears that the parliament's move (on the constitution panel) will lead to more political polarisation during the remaining part of the transitional period.”
A point emphasised by Ibrahim Darwish, a well known legal expert who when appearing on a satellite channel said "Parliaments do not usually write constitutions. It is the constitution that creates the parliament, not vice versa."
Adding that in his view the way in which the constitutional panel was being formed “indicates a 'secret go-ahead' by the military rulers to the Muslim Brotherhood to have the final say in writing the constitution...Such a constitution will not live for long because it reflects the view of only one political power."
Six months is the time frame for which the CA will be given to draw up the constitution with the country's identity, status of minorities, the president's powers and political role of the army the most important issues to be discussed. The draft constitution will then be put up for a public yes/no referendum vote.