• 14:27
  • Thursday ,29 March 2012

Coalition to create 'alternative' constituent assembly


Home News


Thursday ,29 March 2012

Coalition to create 'alternative' constituent assembly

 A coalition of members of the constituent assembly who have recently resigned from the body, together with key political and civil society figures, announced they would be forming an alternative assembly in a press conference Tuesday.

In a signed statement, the coalition declared their "utter refusal" of the process by which members were elected. They confirmed they would be drafting their own version of the constitution that would better reflect Egypt's "plurality and diversity."  
"We will form a committee of 100 members, that will contain prominent figures from the January 25 Revolution and Nobel Prize winners," explained Mostafa El-Gendy, an independent Member of Parliament (MP) and ex-Wafd Party member, speaking at the conference. "We will create an alternate constitution that the people will agree on, as it will be fair to them all.”
The assembly, the official joint statement read, will better represent professional and working unions, minority groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the youth.
The press conference was organised to coincide with the day that the State Council was supposed to announce its decision on whether to declare the process of electing members to the constituent assembly as unconstitutional.
This follows appeals submitted by a group of lawyers to the legal body. The coalition also planned a march from the Journalists' Syndicate to the State Council following the conference in order to join groups already protesting outside the government building.  However, the verdict was postponed until 10 April.
Former members of the constituent assembly who are part of the new initiative attended the conference, including liberal MP Amr Hamzawy, revolutionary activist Ahmed Harara and the official spokesman of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr. Also involved were the five  Egyptian Social Democratic Party MPs and the three Free Egyptians Party MPs who withdrew from the assembly. Parliamentarians such as the independent Salafist MP Yasser Salah El-Qady also spoke.
The official statement launched at the conference said the members had resigned in "protest" at the process used to elect members to the constituent assembly.  
The method, which was originally proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), saw 50 per cent of the assembly nominated from the Islamist-dominated parliament and 50 from non-parliamentarians.
The final member list sparked uproar across the political spectrum, as over 65 per cent of the group were Islamist and it included just six women (two of which were FJP members) and just six Christians.  The list of non-parliamentarian "experts" appeared to have been arbitrarily chosen without debate, consensus or participation.
During the conference Egyptian Lawyers' Syndicate chairman Sameh Ashour officially announced he had resigned from the current assembly and would be joining the coalition's initiative. He objected to the Islamist majority in the assembly which he saw as "a dominance of one particular political stream."
Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr argued that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) should not intervene as they are themselves responsible, because of their failure to manage the country effectively during the transitional period. 
"That’s why the Egyptian Social Alliance rejected the SCAF’s invitation to take part in today’s meeting regarding the constituent assembly,” he added. “We want the people’s support, not anyone else’s."
Salafist independent MP Yasser Salah El-Qady said that even though he was not chosen to be part of the constituent assembly, he saw it as an "illegitimate deal between SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood."
"If the situation in Egypt goes on this way, we will not recover from the losses we face for another fifty years," El-Qady added.
The coalition outlined their plan at the conference. They will form an alternative assembly, which will include members of the current assembly who have resigned, as well as other figures elected using a fairer system. If necessary, quotas will be introduced to ensure equal representation.  
They will then draft a constitution which, should the current assembly not be dissolved, they will campaign to have put to an "either/or" referendum against the current assembly's version.  The public will choose between the constitution written by the alternative assembly or the one written by the official assembly.
This latest plan by the coalition comes after several attempts by the group to push for change. They had previously submitted proposals offering alternate election models. They had also appealed to the majority parties in parliament.
Their final attempt was to submit a request to the head of the People's Assembly to delay the voting session by a week in order to buy time to iron out the problems. All initiatives were rejected.
In the last month, different political groups have appealed to the lower house to reform the constituent assembly.  
On 7 March, a coalition of 16 women's NGOs presented a document to the parliamentary speaker calling for at least 50 per cent representation of women in the assembly.
The Cultural Constitution Movement, formed by a group of artists and academics, is currently drafting four constitutional chapters relating to culture that they hope to submit.
On Sunday the cultural movement announced they had joined the Constitution for all Egyptians Front, a coalition of revolutionary and political groups campaigning for a fair constitution.
All suggestions and campaigns have been ignored by parliament, which led to more drastic action being taken, hence the resignations.
Nevertheless the alternate assembly may not be needed. Hamzawy pointed out at the conference that if over 21 members resign, parliament will be forced to dissolve the assembly. As only 20 substitute members have been elected, should 21 withdraw no one will be left in the reserves to take their place.
The outcome of the body responsible for drafting the most important document in Egypt is still unknown. Nevertheless, the recent initiatives have at least put pressure on the authorities. De facto leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi called a meeting Tuesday afternoon with different parties in the parliament to discuss the issue.
"We do not want a Wahabi [Salafist] identity to rule Egypt," said El-Gendy. "This will not happen. Egyptian identity will continue to rule Egypt, through a fair Egyptian constitution."