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The constituent assembly nominees dissected

Others | 27 March 2012

The votes are still being counted, but the names of the hundred people nominated to draft Egypt’s next constitution have been announced. Since Parliament decided to appoint half the members from within its ranks, the list is dominated by Islamists, as expected. Thirty-six of the 50 MPs come from parliamentary blocs of either the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party or the Salafi-oriented Nour Party. But what about the other 50 members and their affiliations?

 
The Islamists picked their own as much as they could, whether experts in law, finance or vocational syndicates, which are largely dominated by Islamists. All bankers and businessmen included in the assembly are from Islamist backgrounds, and the bankers work in Islamic banking.
 
Some non-parliamentary members also belong to the Nour Party, such as party spokesperson Nader Bakkar. There are only six Coptic Christians, who represent around 10 percent of the population, and six women, who represent around half. One of the Christians is Rafiq Habib, a Coptic priest who is also the deputy head of the FJP. Wafd MP Margaret Azer and professor Mona Makram Ebeid are both women and Christians.
 
Suzan Zaghloul Hassan, a member of the Shura Council, comes from the FJP. Another woman is Fatma Abu Zeid, daughter of prominent Brotherhood Guidance Bureau member Mahmoud Abu Zeid. There is one Christian representing the Coptic Church, Magdy Shenouda, a lawyer for the late Pope Shenouda.
 
This doesn’t bode well for minority and women's rights, especially since Article 2 of the 1971 constitution states that Sharia is the basis of jurisprudence. Although not even liberal forces are fighting remove that line, some are hoping for the inclusion of sections covering the rights of Christians and other minorities. There are also fears now regarding the personal liberties section of any future constitution.
 
Activists who fomented the uprising that brought down Hosni Mubarak and, in turn, brought about the new Parliament also received scant representation. Ahmed Harara, an activist who lost sight in both of his eyes while fighting security forces during protests, is the only representative from the youthful revolutionary movement.
 
To counterbalance Harara’s influence, Mamdouh Shahin, a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, will be representing the military, while former Deputy Interior Minister Emad Abdallah will likely be looking out for the interests of the country's security services. Much controversy has come up in recent months over the status of the military in the constitution. Many are against any special status for the armed forces, whose actions are shrouded in secrecy.
 
A liberal and leftist presence is not strong, and there are also concerns that members of these movements already included in the assembly might pull out completely before it first convenes. Already, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party has withdrawn MP Ziad Bahaa Eddin and party leader Mohamed Abul Ghar from the assembly. Their names remain on the official list and their replacements are not yet known.
 
A list of 40 reserve names, half of which are from Parliament, will be called on if someone pulls out. This will make things more difficult, according to assembly member Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a liberal professor of political science.
 
“The composition of the assembly is not ideal, and things are further complicated by the wishes of the liberals and the leftists in the assembly to withdraw,” he said. “This will mean the Islamists and their discourse will dominate further.
 
“We’re talking about personal liberties and freedom of beliefs for example,” he added, expecting a struggle on that front from the Nour Party representatives. “In the absence of a strong liberal presence, the more hard-line narrative will take over, and I’m expecting one-upmanship from the Nour Party toward the Muslim Brotherhood, which could make things even more hard-line.”
 
Members of Parliament
 
From the 50 members who are MPs, 25 are from the FJP and 11 are from Nour. The remaining 14 spots were distributed among other parties and independents. Head of the People’s Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee and former vice president of the Court of Cassation, Mahmoud al-Khodairy is also among them. Although registered as an independent, he is backed by the Brotherhood. Other legal experts include Wasat Party deputy head Essam Sultan and, of course, People’s Assembly Speaker Saad al-Katatny.
 
On the liberal front, Amr Hamzawy and Amr el-Shobaki, both political scientists who were elected as independents, and Wahid Abdel Meguid, a researcher, are in the assembly. Ahmed Saeed from the Free Egyptians Party, Mohamed Esmat al-Sadat from the Reform and Development Party and Saad Aboud from the Nasserist Karama Party will also help write the new constitution.
 
Non-MPs
 
The 50 nominees for the assembly yet to accept their membership come from the judiciary, vocational syndicates, political parties and religious orders, such as Abdel Hady al-Qasaby, who was nominated to represent Egypt’s Sufi orders.
 
The judiciary is represented by Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid, constitutional expert and prominent Islamist Atef al-Banna, head of the Supreme Judicial Council Hossam al-Gheriany, Supreme Constitutional Court Vice President Ali Saleh and others.
 
Also included are the heads of the pharmacists, engineers, journalists, lawyers and artists syndicates. They will be joined by Alexandria University head Osama Ibrahim, a geologist from Minya University, Cairo University International Relations Professor Nadia Mostafa and engineering professors.
 
Poet and writer Farouk Goweida and former Ahly club football player Abdel Aziz al-Shafei, also known as Zizo, will also be among the constitution’s authors. The selectors also gave a nod to students by nominating Mansoura University dentistry student Ahmed al-Marakby, who is also affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
The half from outside Parliament will also include many Islamic thinkers, such as Abdel Rahman al-Bur, professor of modern history at Al-Azhar and member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, Nasr Farid Wasel, a former grand mufti, and Mohamed Emara, an Islamic thinker. Also included are Islamic representatives like Ayman Ali Ahmed, secretary general of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe. The assembly will also include a representative of the Egyptian expatriate community in Saudi Arabia, Hassan Lashin.
 
Other prominent figures include academics and researchers such as Moataz Billah Abdel Fattah and Ahmed al-Naggar.
 
Finance
 
A noticeable proportion of finance-related representatives come from Islamic banks or are businessmen affiliated with the Brotherhood. While there is an emphasis on Islamic banking and business, only one person has been nominated for workers, farmers, labor unions and the like: Abdel Fattah Khatab from the Egyptian Trade Union Federation. That body was the only trade union federation in Egypt before the revolution, and has a strong history of state control.
 
The assembly also includes Hussain Hamid Hassan, head of the Dubai Islamic Bank’s Sharia supervisory committee, and Mabad al-Garhey, Sharia supervisor for the Dubai Financial Market. In addition, businessman Ibrahim El-Araby of El-Araby Group, who is also affiliated with the Brotherhood, is set to be included in the assembly.
 
The emphasis on Islamic finance could be a precursor for how business transactions are codified in the constitution. Usury, prohibited by Islam, could be deemed illegal in the new constitution.

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