Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Political parties jockeying for a say in the drawing up of new constituent assembly

Egypt's political parties are all jockeying for a say in the drawing up of the new constituent assembly. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) , with the largest representation in parliament, is proposing that 40% of its members should be drawn from parliament and the remainder from the great and good of society including legal and constitutional experts as well as trades unionists. Their proposal would ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the drafting.

At the other end of the spectrum the activists and liberals want to see groups that are not represented in parliament - or at least, with few members drawn from their ranks, such as women, Christians and young people - have a say and would like the constituent assembly to touch all the bases by having their voices heard.

The procedural discussions are merely the prelude to the discussions of substance which will decide the political system that Egyptians will be bound by. The key will be the division of authority between the presidency and parliament. Until now the former has enjoyed total executive power with parliament little more than a talking shop that rubber stamps presidential decrees. Traditionally the presidency deals with security and sovereign issues – which are very broadly defined - including internal security, while the politically weaker and more technocratic government deals with the economy and other matters. The Muslim Brotherhood, which still maintains it will not put up a candidate for presidential elections, wants government and authority to derive more from parliament in which it has an effective majority. One idea might be to split responsibilities so that the presidency deals with foreign affairs and the parliament internal.

For their part the Salafis, with the second largest representation in parliament, would like an even higher proportion of members of the constituent assembly to be drawn from parliament. Some of their members want Article 2 of the constitution to be changed so that Islam is Egypt's only source of legislation rather than being the principle source as it is at present.

The ghost in the room as always is the military, which over the past year through the ill-fated proposals for "The Democratic Transition and Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution” that were produced by the former Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs Ali El-Selmi has been manoeuvring for special dispensation from parliamentary oversight. None of the political parties wishes to give the military any special favours. All insist that the military should be subject to constitutional control and that its budget be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Yet the military, though openly declaring that it is handing over to a civil authority in July, is deeply opposed to any interference in its autonomous existence.

These are uncharted waters and any period of political transition is uncertain. Egyptian decisions are traditionally taken by the deep state irrespective of the shell institutions that are meant to take them. The test of the revolution is how much that will have changed and how much the old way of doing things will survive.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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