Skating on thin ice

Islamists hail the refusal of the Administrative Court to rule on the legality of the Constituent Assembly as a victory – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Essam El-Din, 25 October – 1 November 2012.

Secular forces – including liberals and leftists – were shocked when the Administrative Court bowed out of giving a judgement on the fate of the 100-member Constituent Assembly and referred the case to the Supreme Constitutional Court. They have long charged that the assembly is packed with Islamists and had hoped the body tasked with drafting Egypt’s first post-25 January Revolution would be invalidated this week and replaced by one more representative of wider public opinion. 

The Administrative Court surprised all on Tuesday by kicking the case upstairs to the Supreme Constitutional Court to give a final word on the constitutionality of the law establishing the assembly.

Cairo University political science professor Hassan Nafaa says Tuesday’s decision by the Administrative Court “gives the Islamist-dominated assembly a new lifeline to complete drafting the long-awaited constitution and place it before the public in a referendum”. He urged secular forces to change their strategy and expend their energies not on trying to have the assembly disbanded but on exposing the worst articles and mobilising the street against them.

Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies’ (ACPSS) analyst Emad Gad, a former MP, argues that “the Administrative Court’s decision must be viewed in light of ongoing exchange of blows between the Muslim Brotherhood and the judiciary.”

“After four months of judicial deliberations it was a surprise to find we must wait even longer to know whether the assembly is legal or not,” he said.

“Liberal forces should now stand up to radical Islamists who want to write a religious constitution, undermine gender equality, retain the president’s Pharaonic powers and impose their coercive rule under the guise of implementing Islamic Sharia.”

“We know that the Islamists are in a hurry to impose their mediaeval constitution and our battle is to prevent them from doing this.”

Though it shied away from issuing a ruling the Administrative Court did accuse the Islamist-dominated — and now dissolved — People’s Assembly of “exercising legislative power in a bad way, granting the Constituent Assembly immunity against dissolution and stripping administrative courts of their role in revising the legality of administrative orders” … //

… Abul-Ela Madi, chairman of the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, urged secular forces to take a more objective view of the draft constitution “and not view it as grounds for settling scores with Islamists in the courts”.

The draft constitution may seem extreme to non-Islamists, but for some Islamists on the Constituent Assembly it is not extreme enough. The Salafist Nour Party has demanded that Article 2 on Sharia (Islamic law) be amended to state that “the rules of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation in Egypt.” They also reject any articles referring to gender equality.

Liberal members accuse Islamists of using their majority to help Islamist President Morsi keep the draconian powers his predecessor enjoyed courtesy of the 1971 constitution. These include giving the president a final say in appointing judges to the SCC and appointing a quarter (rather than just 10) members of the Shura Council. They also complain that the president of the republic is not subject to any kind of accountability before parliament, and that he has unlimited powers over the army and police. They threatened that they would withdraw from the assembly unless the draft is changed, warning of the possibility the Constituent Assembly could collapse … (full text).

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