Muslim Brotherhood Suffers Blow as Egypt Court Anulls Constitutional Panel

Ruling prevents Islamist from holding majority say in drafting new constitution; Egyptian media erupts after former Israeli Defense Minister supports Omar Suleiman's presidential candidacy.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

On Tuesday, The Egyptian Administrative Court cancelled an earlier parliament decision regarding the makeup of the country's constitutional drafting committee, effectively hampering Muslim Brotherhood efforts to shape the country’s image.

According to a prior decision by Egyptian Parliament chairman Saad al-Katatni, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, parliament members would make up half of the constitutional drafting committee, with the other half going to extra-parliamentary officials.

That distribution would have guaranteed a majority rule of the Muslim Brotherhood along with other religious parties, which currently hold more than 70 percent of seats on the committee.

Egyptians in a minibus passing under posters with pictures of candidates from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Dec. 2011. Credit: AP

The secular movements, along with Coptic Christians and women’s organizations, were among those opposed to that make up. The groups filed a complaint with the administrative court, not only against the composition of the committee – from which many secular members have already quit - but also urging a change in the method through which representatives are chosen.

According to their complaint, the current method, which basically allows the majority party in parliament to draft the constitution, harms the foundation of a constitution, which should represent all sectors of the public.

In addition, women and Copts are largely disenfranchised within the constitutional committee, because the secular population is largely underrepresented.

The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed that election results are reflective of the entire public, and that the parliament has the right to draft the constitution. Brotherhood representatives have also complained that the administrative court does not have authority to make such a decision.

The court, however, rejected both claims, and abolished the current composition of the constitutional committee, thus striking a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood's ambitions to hold a commanding majority.

Instead, the task of drafting a constitution will be passed to a committee of “National representatives," a supreme committee comprised of government officials as well as representatives of opposition movements.

The new drafting committee will be charged with determining the authority and powers held by the president, to be elected in May, as well as the power of the parliament.

Basically, the committee will determine the character of the state, which could be an Islamic state under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood, or, a civil state which preserves the right of the minority and free speech, as described by the liberal groups that pursued legal action.

The court's decision makes the limits of Brotherhood political power clear, and serves as proof of public opposition to Brotherhood control of all political outlets.

The assumption that the dramatic victory in parliament elections would allow the Brotherhood to form the new constitution and determine the character of the state, has come under fire over the last few days, and an intense, public political struggle over the drafting of the constitution is expected to ensue.

Moreover, the decision will most likely postpone the drafting of the constitution, despite the desire of the Supreme Military Council to have a constitution in place before presidential elections.

If the elections are not postponed as well, the future president will be chosen according to the current constitution, and will therefore be able to influence drafting of the new constitution.

In opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood could return fire as well, if it turns out that the new method for electing the constitutional drafting committee will decrease their power – they could theoretically boycott the committee altogether, thereby delegitimizing it.

Egypt media storms over Israeli officials' support of presidential candidate

A day after recent former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Egyptian presidential hopeful Omar Suleiman was Israel's preferred candidate, the comment made headlines across Egypt.

On Monday, after Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio that “Omar Suleiman is the best Egyptian presidential candidate in terms of Israel’s interests,” the quote became a headline for almost all of Egypt’s media outlets.

The comments made to Army Radio yesterday were widely referenced, and used to highlight the opinion that Suleiman, who served as Intelligence Minister under Hosni Mubarak, would be a direct continuation of Mubarak’s rule, and will cater to Israel’s interests, making him an unfit candidate for the presidency.

Since declaring his bid for the presidency, Suleiman has been the target of criticism from both religious hardliners, as well as secular liberals, opposing his candidacy because he was an integral member of the previous regime.

An Egyptian parliament committee approved a law proposal on Tuesday, prohibiting government officials from the former regime from any political activity for a period of ten years. If the law passes, not only Suleiman’s candidacy will be affected, but also Amr Moussa, former Foreign Minister under Mubarak, will be disqualified from the race.

The proposed law is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the majority party in parliament, and is meant to ensure the failure of candidates that could defeat party candidate Khairat al-Shater, whose candidacy has also run into trouble due to serving prison sentences in the past.

Suleiman is conceived as the Supreme Military Council, the body at the center of public criticism. “Tossing a military candidate for president into the public sphere is nothing more than a return to the start,” wrote Halad Salah, editer of the Egyptian newspaper “Youm al Sabbah.” Salah also wrote, “if Suleiman is not a military backed candidate, the council should officially say so.”



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