x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Egyptian liberal MPs walk out over dominance of Islamists

Fears that Islamists in control of writing Egypt's constitution will ignore minority concerns.

Egyptians, including one man holding a lit flare, chant slogans during a demonstration over the suspension of the Port Said football club following a deadly riot last month.
Egyptians, including one man holding a lit flare, chant slogans during a demonstration over the suspension of the Port Said football club following a deadly riot last month.

CAIRO // Concerns about Islamist groups gaining a dominant role in writing Egypt's constitution sent three of the country's liberal parties walking out of parliament in protest.

Egypt's Islamists make up the sizeable majority of a 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution, according to a list of names published yesterday by the country's official news agency.

The Free Egyptians, Tagammu and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party walked out on a voting session on Saturday night in protest of what they described as a process designed to allow the Islamist parties control over writing the document.

"The constitution should not reflect the majority, it should reflect all forces in society," said Rifaat Al Said, the head of the democratic socialist Tagammu party, said yesterday. "There is an attempt to possess everything … Possessing the constitution is the most dangerous thing."

Under rules adopted by parliament last week, the constitutional committee is made up of 50 parliamentarians and 50 experts chosen by members of parliament.

The 50 MPs include 25 from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, 11 from the Salafist Al Nour Party and 14 independent and non-Islamist party MPs, according to the list. The 50 outside experts are said to include union officials, academics, legal experts and Coptic Christians. Islamists will be in the majority.

The list reinforces fears by secular and liberal Egyptians that the Islamists dominating parliament will pack the panel with supporters and ignore minority concerns.

"Women and Copts are under-represented, as are many of the country's leading constitutionalists and opposition members," said Mona Makram-Ebeid, a Coptic member of the advisory council to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), which has ruled the country since the removal from power of prime minister Hosni Mubarak last year.

"There is too much of a majority of the Islamist movement [in the committee], but in the end they have included some very respectable figures, who have a say and a position in the country. They will not let themselves be dominated," he said.

The new constitution will determine how far the country will go in enshrining into the law the principles that inspired hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets to demand Mr Mubarak's resignation. It will set out the powers of the branches of government, the role of religion in politics and the rights of minority groups in Egypt - all areas of intense debate after the uprising.

The problems date to the constitutional declaration issued by Scaf more than a month after it took control and suspended the 1971 constitution, said Nathan Brown, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University in the US.

"The constitution writing process is a mess, but the charge that it is not representative is disingenuous," he said. "The 100-member committee was selected by the parliament resulting from Egypt's freest and most representative elections ever. A representative process should reflect electoral outcomes to some degree."

The process for rewriting the constitution, set out in the constitutional declaration, was "badly designed", which is leading to the problems now, Mr Brown said.

The Freedom and Justice Party denied there was any attempt to control the writing of a new constitution.

Helmi Gazzar, a MP for the Freedom and Justice Party and member of the constitutional committee, wrote on the Muslim Brotherhood's website yesterday that "the battle regarding these articles is contrived, imaginary, unjustified". He said: "It makes no sense, so long as these articles are phrased properly to prevent loopholes and misinterpretation of their main intended meaning. All Egyptians should trust that no one, no matter how powerful, will be able to circumvent these approved and accepted limits."



* With additional reporting by the Associated Press