By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: The controversy over the formation of the Constituent Assembly escalated Sunday as the Church announced its withdrawal from the 100-member panel.
“The church listened to the Coptic community and proved that it is close to the people in its first major decision after the passing of Pope Shenouda III,” said Hani Ramsis, leading member of the Coptic Maspero Youth Union.
The Coptic Holy Synod announced Sunday night that the two Copts, Nabil Meirham, former head of the State Council, and Coptic lawyer Magdy Shenouda, who represent the church will withdraw from the Assembly. The decision was unanimous within the Council’s 20 members.
Ramsis said that Copts were outraged by the weak representation of Coptic figures in the Assembly.
Al-Azhar had withdrawn from the Assembly last week, also due to weak representation on the panel. Only one member, former Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wassel, represented the renowned Sunni Islamic institution before his withdrawal.
With this decision, both the church and Sunni Islam’s highest authority, joined by several liberals, leftists and other institutions have walked out of the panel elected by the Islamist-majority parliament last month, denouncing their meager representation and the domination of the assembly by Islamists, who control around 60 percent of the panel.
Others criticized the lack of clear criteria through which representatives of different sectors were selected.
The Advisory Council, a body formed by Egypt’s military rulers to advise it throughout the transitional period, announced Sunday night its support for the parties that withdrew from the Assembly.
It called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to issue a new constitutional declaration, citing guidelines for Article 60 of the declaration announced last year, which gives the parliament the authority to elect the Assembly.
“Any intervention from SCAF in the make-up of the Constituent Assembly is completely unacceptable,” spokesman of the Salafi Al-Nour Party and member of the Assembly Nader Bakkar told DNE.
However, professor of constitutional law at Cairo University, Raafat Fouda, said that the Council’s advice was “overdo”.
“SCAF will never go back or add to the constitutional declaration announced last year,” Fouda explained.
He added that Article 60 of the constitutional decree was considered invalid now that it achieved its purpose and the Constituent Assembly has been established.
“This is an article that is implemented once during the transitional period, it cannot be amended or re-used,” he said.
There has been wide debate over whether MPs should be represented in the Constituent Assembly and their percentage. The majority of the upper and lower houses, dominated by Islamists, had agreed that 50 percent of the Assembly would be allocated to MPs, a point of contention among several political powers.
The Advisory Council said that guidelines to elect the Constituent Assembly had to be announced by SCAF to end the controversy.
Only 74 of the 100-member panel attended the first session on March 28, when two more walked out. The FJP’s PA speaker Saad El-Katatny was elected head of the panel, further inflaming the situation.
Some 14 parties had agreed last Thursday in a meeting with the ruling military council to boost their representation in the Islamist-dominated Assembly. However, liberal and leftist parties including the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), Al-Adl, Al-Karama, Al-Tagammu and the Democratic Peace parties refused the agreement.
The agreement proposed that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) give up 10 of its seats on the panel to the benefit of other groups who were already elected as substitutes.
Bakkar said that negotiations were ongoing with political powers who withdrew from the Constituent Assembly in order to reach consensus.
“We even have a meeting with them today and I believe the negotiations are going well and we will reach an agreement soon,” Bakkar said.