Egyptian liberals boycott constitutional panel | News | DW | 11.06.2012
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Egyptian liberals boycott constitutional panel

Egyptian liberals have abandoned a process to select members of a constitutional panel over accusations that it favors Islamists. The fate of Egypt's transition, meanwhile, hangs in the balance of two court cases.

Liberals in Egypt on Sunday walked out of a meeting to select members of a constitutional panel amid recriminations of Islamist domination, torpedoing a June 7 agreement that called for the body to be split between religious and secular parties.

That agreement, brokered under the pressure of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), allotted 50 of the panel's 100 seats to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Nour party, who together control 70 percent of the parliament. The rest of the seats were to go to other parties in parliament as well as national institutions such as the Coptic Church and the Islamic university of Al-Azhar.

But lawmaker Emad Gad of the liberal Free Egyptians party told the Associated Press that SCAF had not been clear enough and that he had understood the agreement would give an equal amount of seats to religious and secular parties.

Instead, the Brotherhood and al Nour were seeking 50 seats with another 21 seats to go to government institutions. That would leave just 11 seats for the rest of the parties in parliament and 18 seats for "the rest of Egypt," Gad said.

Déjà vu

Liberal groups walked out of a previous meeting to select the panel last March amid disagreement over the representation given to the Islamic parties. Gad blamed the military council for the dispute this time.

"We hold the ruling military council responsible for not being clear enough," Gad said. "If they want to repeat what happened last time, then they can move ahead on Tuesday with selecting the panel."

But Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan accused Gad's party of trying to impose its minority will on the majority.

"They control maybe six or seven percent in parliament, but they want to force their opinion on the almost 94 percent," Ghozlan said.

Transition under scrutiny

The constitutional panel would be charged with the critical task of writing a national constitution for Egypt, a document that would define the powers of the all-important presidency. Egypt holds its presidential runoff on June 16-17, with Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and former Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq competing for the nation's highest office.

When the winner of the presidential election is announced on June 21st, his powers will still be undefined, leaving open the possibly of a power struggle with parliament and the ruling military council.

Egypt's presidential election, however, could be called off altogether depending on how the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on a political exclusion law passed by parliament. If the court upholds the law, which targets Mubarak era officials, Shafiq could be disqualified from the race due to his service as prime minister for the now imprisoned ex-president.

In a second case, Egypt's highest judicial body has to review a lower court ruling that deemed Egypt's parliamentary elections illegal. That ruling was based on a recommendation by legal experts, who said it was unfair to allow parties to run candidates in electoral districts reserved for independents. If the Supreme Constitutional Court upholds that ruling, Egypt's parliament would be dissolved and the transition would start over from scratch.

slk/ipj (AP, dapd)