Egypt’s defiant assembly upholds charter hopes

Egypt’s defiant assembly upholds charter hopes

Egypt’s defiant assembly upholds charter hopes

Supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi celebrate in Tahrir square after the Brotherhood claimed win in presidential vote. EPA Photo

Egypt’s Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on June 18 in the debating chamber of the dissolved Parliament in a show of defiance against the army’s assumption of legislative powers.

The assembly is due to write a new constitution as part of a transition to democracy engineered by the generals who took power after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. But that transition was thrown into disarray last week when a court of Mubarak-era judges ruled that the parliamentary election was invalid and that the chamber must be dissolved.

On June 17, the ruling military council issued a decree allowing it to write laws and to name a new Constituent Assembly if necessary, prompting some analysts to say the generals were insuring themselves against a possible Islamist win when presidential election results are announced tomorrow.

“We are holding on to this Constituent Assembly. It is the only gain we took away from the legitimate Parliament,” said liberal deputy Mohamed el-Sawy, one of the 100 people appointed by Parliament to write the constitution. At its inaugural meeting, the assembly named Hossam el-Gheriany, the head of the Supreme Judicial Council, as its chair and agreed to meet again at the weekend, according to Reuters. Officially, the constitution-writing process is unaffected by the removal of Parliament. But the army’s decree gives it the right to form a new constitution-writing body if the current one “encounters any obstacles in completing its role” and to oppose any article that contradicts the “goals of the revolution.” “The army will try to use the first opportunity to get rid of it and form a new assembly,” said Gamal Abdel Gawad, politics professor at the American University in Cairo. Analysts say the army might be seeking to secure a special status in the next constitution to protect the economic interests and prestige.

The constituent assembly comprises members of Parliament as well as constitutional experts, judicial figures, Christian and Muslim clerics, union members and representatives of the army, police, government and Egypt’s youth.

US deeply concerned

Uncertainty also reigns over the winner of elections, with Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi claiming an early victory, while his rival, ex-Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, has refused to concede.

The United States, a close Egyptian ally, also conveyed its worries after the military gave itself sweeping powers. The U.S. is “deeply concerned” about the constitutional decree issued by the Egyptian military but expects the armed services to transfer full power to an elected civilian government as previously promised, the Pentagon said June 18.

“We believe Egypt’s transition must continue and that Egypt is made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.

“We are deeply concerned about the new amendments to the constitutional declaration, including the timing of their announcement as polls were closing for the presidential elections,” Little told reporters.