Egypt’s parliament will meet on June 12 to elect a 100-member panel that will draft the country’s new constitution, after political groups overcame an impasse that clouded the push for democracy before a presidential runoff.
The breakthrough, announced yesterday by Wafd Party head Sayed el-Badawi, offered a last-minute respite to the political groups after Egypt’s ruling military council on June 5 gave them 48 hours to reach an accord. The ruling generals said at the time that they would act unilaterally if the groups failed to agree on the framework of the committee.
Activists and Islamists have called for another mass protest in Cairo today demanding the expulsion of Ahmed Shafik, who served as ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s last premier, from the presidential race. Rallies during the week also called for a halt to the vote set to begin on June 16 and the establishment of a presidential council.
Before the runoff ballot, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads the ruling military council, will call both houses of parliament to a joint session on June 12 to begin electing the committee, el-Badawi said yesterday. The impasse increased the chances that a new president will be elected with no constitution in place and his powers yet to be determined.
The new framework gives political parties in parliament 39 seats on the committee, el-Badawi told reporters after the groups met with the military council. The remaining 61 seats are set aside for individuals and institutions from groups including the Coptic Church, legal scholars and professors. The military, the police and the justice ministry would each have one seat. It is aimed at averting objections that led to the disbanding of an earlier constitutional panel.
Christians, secularists and others said the earlier committee was dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, along with other Islamists who together hold the majority in parliament’s lower house.
The critics said the Brotherhood, which holds the largest single bloc in parliament, was seeking to dominate the constitution-writing process to strengthen its hold on power. The assertion gained resonance when the Freedom and Justice Party’s chief, Mohamed Mursi, secured one of the two spots in the runoff presidential race.
Islamist lawmakers criticized the judicial system after the June 2 Mubarak verdict, which also acquitted six senior security chiefs. In a news conference yesterday, Ahmed el-Zind, the head of the judge’s union, fired back.
“The Egyptian judiciary will not be threatened,” el-Zind was quoted as saying by state-run Al-Ahram’s website during a news conference. El-Zind said the criticism in parliament was tarnishing its image and leading people to rally against it.
“We did not want a parliament that attacks and insults the Egyptian people,” he was quoted as saying. “Is this how parliament gives back to the judiciary?”
The comments were the latest criticism of the Islamist-led parliament that has sought to recast itself as the “Revolutionary Assembly,” a play on the name of the lower house, the People’s Assembly.
Mursi sought to ease the tensions, saying in comments aired on Arabic satellite channel CBC that the courts and the judges were the country’s arbiters and that insults directed at the courts were “completely rejected.”
The agreement reflected efforts to advance the political process and secure some stability ahead of a June 14 hearing in which the Constitutional Court will hear two cases that could further complicate Egypt’s winding road to democracy.
The court is to begin evaluating a law that would bar some former top officials who served under Mubarak in his last decade in power from holding top posts, including the presidency. Youth activists are trying to have Shafik pushed from the presidential race under that legislation.
In addition, the court will look at the law that regulated the parliamentary elections. If the court rules against the law, parliament could be disbanded.