By Heba Fahmy
CARIO: Speaker of Parliament Saad El-Katatny was elected Wednesday as head of the 100-member Constituent Assembly which convened for its first meeting Wednesday despite the absence of 26 members.
El-Katatny said that drafting the constitution is more important than “narrow political gains,” emphasizing the need for national consensus over the constitution.
Only 74 members of the Constituent Assembly, tasked with drafting a new charter, attended the meeting presided over by the oldest member, Islamic scholar Mohamed Emara, before El-Katatny was voted in.
Wahid Abdel-Meguid, an independent MP who was backed by the FJP during the PA elections, as well as leading member of Al-Wasat Party MP Essam Sultan, walked out in protest at the decision to continue the meeting despite the absence of 26 members, most of whom had objected to the dominance of Islamists and announced their boycott of the assembly. Only 72 members were present during the vote.
However, others argued that a quorum of 51 percent was met, since over 70 percent of the members were in attendance. Justice Yehia Dakroury of the State Council and member of the Assembly said there was no legal text that stipulated the quorum except for the 100 members mentioned in the constitutional decree. He argued that the quorum should be 100 percent.
The Supreme Constitutional Court announced Wednesday its withdrawal from the Constituent Assembly amid suspicions over the integrity of the election process.
Al-Wafd Party had announced on Tuesday night that it too has withdrawn from the assembly.
On Saturday, several political parties boycotted the Constituent Assembly elections following a joint meeting that included the Free Egyptians and the Social Democratic.
Al-Tagammu Party walked out of the Constituent Assembly election process a week earlier, reflecting a boycott by Egypt’s liberal and leftist parties in parliament.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafi Al-Nour, garnered around 60 percent of the assembly, whose final formation includes only six women, six Copts and a few members of syndicates, unions and public figures.
El-Katatny announced the establishment of a nine-member committee to hold meetings with the political powers who boycotted or withdrew from the Constituent Assembly and accept proposals regarding the bylaws governing the work of the assembly and the process of writing the constitution.
The committee included Abdel-Meguid, Al-Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar and poet and writer Farouk Goweida.
Goweida had earlier expressed his disdain for the dearth of constitutional law experts and other factions in the Constituent Assembly, offering to give up his own membership to make way for under-represented sectors and urging 15 MPs to do the same.
Freedom and Justice Party and MP Sobhi Saleh, however, argued that that would be a breach of article 60 of the constitutional declaration imposed by the ruling military council last March, which gave the upper and lower houses of parliament the authority to elect the Constituent Assembly.
He said that more than 77 percent of voters were in favor of the constitutional amendments included in the declaration.
“There is no going back on parliament’s decisions,” he said.
Others described those who boycotted the Assembly as “a minority” who shouldn’t impose their vision on the “majority”.
El-Katatny said that only one of the absent members had officially announced their withdrawal from the panel, adding that statements to the media are insufficient.
“Only Mohamed Abul Ghar and [member of the Free Egyptians political bureau] Hany Sarei El-Din, who was elected as a substitute member of the Assembly, has officially withdrawn,” El-Katatny said, adding that he believed that most of the members will return and perform their duty.
He gave the committee one week to hold talks and reach consensus with all political powers.
Assistant Defense Minister for Legal Affairs and member of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), Mamdouh Shahin, representing the military council, sat in the front row during the meeting which was aired live.
El-Katatny added that an official spokesman for the panel will also be selected by next week.