Fast-track constitution: Voting Thursday 2 months before deadline

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Worse, Dawoud added, giving Shura Council the power of legislating is a very dangerous development “because most non-Islamist forces do not trust an Islamist dominated upper house to issue laws that can
serve democratisation.”

Although given till 12 Feb 2013 by president Morsi to complete its work, the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly surprised all by declaring it will vote Thursday on Egypt’s new constitution
Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 29 Nov 2012
In spite of objections and boycott from the Church and most non-Islamist forces and big demonstrations across the country, the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly surprised all by deciding to put Egypt’s final draft of the new constitution to a final vote Thursday.
At the end of its nine-hour session on Wednesday, the Assembly made another big surprise. It rammed through an article that gives the Islamist-dominated upper consultative house of Shura Council the power to issue legislations and until a new lower house parliament (the House of Representatives) is elected.

The two decisions were a big surprise because they came after Islamist President Mohamed Morsi decided on 22 November to give the Assembly two additional months so that non-Islamists and Islamists can reach a consensus on the new charter and finish their work without haste.

Moreover, granting the Islamist-dominated Shura Council the power of legislating would cause a big backlash on the street. To most liberal and leftist forces, it makes no difference that Islamist president Mohamed Morsi or the Islamist-dominated Shura Council have the power of legislation because both are subject to the control of one force – the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist allies.

At the beginning of Wednesday’s session, the Assembly’s chairman Hossam El-Gheryani told members that “all of you should come at 10 O’clock tomorrow morning to get the honour of attending the vote on the new constitution.” El-Gheryani also issued a final call to members who withdrew from the Assembly – mostly non-Islamists and representatives of the Church – urging them “not to miss a glorious day.”

“You had a hand in drafting this constitution and you should be keen to be here tomorrow on a great day to put the final touch on this work.”

“I made several contacts with members who withdrew from the assembly such as poet Farouk Guwaida, political activist Ayman Nour and representatives of the church, appealing to them to come tomorrow to be honoured with endorsing Egypt’s constitution,” he added.

The Assembly’s Secretary-General Amr Darrag, a member of Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), also told parliamentary correspondents on Wednesday that “the debate on the final draft of the constitution would be completed today and then to be followed by a final vote on Thursday.”

After the vote, the final draft of the 230-article constitution is expected to be sent to President Morsi on the same day to put it to a national referendum within two weeks.

El-Gheryani told the Assembly last week that “all should be prepared for day-and-night debates throughout the week and from Saturday until Thursday and until we finish our work.”

In spite of this, most political observers expected that the final vote would be conducted next week. “It was expected that the final draft would be put for a public debate first for few days and then put to a final vote at the end but this is not what happened,” Mohamed Abdel-Alim Dawoud, a member of the Wafd party who joined withdrawals, told “Al-Ahram Online.”

Dawoud argued that El-Gheryani, a former judge with Islamist leanings, might have been subjected to pressure from Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood group to wrap up the debate and put it to a vote this week.

“The Brotherhood might believe that the passing of the final draft of the constitution could help them contain the popular anger directed at President Morsi, as expressed by last Tuesday’s huge demonstration at Tahrir Square, and get out of the current political crisis,” said Dawoud.

“The decision to rush out the vote will only serve to pour oil on fire and push more anger into the face of Morsi and his group. It will exasperate the existing impression that the Assembly is really under the tight control of Muslim Brotherhood and that the resulting constitution was tailored by them to serve their political ends.”

Worse, Dawoud added, giving Shura Council the power of legislating is a very dangerous development “because most non-Islamist forces do not trust an Islamist dominated upper house to issue laws that can serve democratisation.”

It is not clear how the vote will be conducted at the absence of around a quarter of the assembly’s original members (or a third of original and reserve members). According to internal rules, the first reading of the final draft should gain 67 votes and if it failed, a second reading could be based on 57 votes only. In both cases, Islamists – Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafists -have the majority.

One major reason why non-Islamists boycotted the Assembly was that they asked for a vote of no less than 75 per cent of members.

“This could have reflected consensus rather than impose control by the majority,” said former presidential candidate and one-time Mubarak foreign minister Amr Moussa who was the first to withdraw.

Thursday’s vote comes as the Assembly, led by Islamist El-Gheryani, speeded up the process of drafting the constitution in the last few days. A whopping number of 50 articles have been discussed since Saturday, with most of them regulating controversial bodies like judicial authority, the army, the president’s powers and the press and media.

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