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Disagreement over Constituent Assembly’s decisions

ETUF upset over cancelling labourers and farmers’ quota; administrative prosecution protesting its “trimmed jurisdiction”

A general view of Egypt's 50-member panel that has been tasked with drawing up a new constitution during their first meeting in Cairo. (AFP File Photo)
A general view of Egypt’s 50-member panel that has been tasked with drawing up a new constitution during their first meeting in Cairo.
(AFP File Photo)

Disagreement arose over articles preliminarily passed by the 50-member Constituent Assembly tasked with amending the suspended 2012 constitution in its Monday session.

The assembly finalised articles concerning the judicial authority on Monday. It also agreed to cancel the 50% quota granted to labourers and farmers by former President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s.

During a press conference held by assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy on Tuesday, the spokesman said that the quota was repeatedly abused by political parties.

“The definition of labourers and farmers in previous constitutions was never clear,” Salmawy said. “It is almost impossible to set a clear definition for the aforementioned [which would prevent exploiting the quota].”

Salmawy accused the Constituent Assembly which drafted the 2012 constitution of “emptying the quota of its context.”

“The assembly wasn’t trying to fix the problem,” Salmawy said, adding that the assembly merely escaped it.

Article 229 of the 2012 constitution preserved the quota for the coming parliament only. It also defined labourers and farmers, leaving the criteria upon which candidates could be considered labourers or farmers to the laws.

“For the first time, we sincerely faced this quota problem and tried to find an alternative solution to it,” Salmawy said. He added that the assembly is currently considering an alternative to the labourers and farmers quota which could be included in the constitution.

Salmawy said that workers’ and farmers’ representatives in the assembly both approved of removing the quota.

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), the union representing labourers across the country, threatened file a lawsuit to dissolve the Constituent Assembly after the committee refused to uphold a quota guaranteeing parliamentary seats for workers and farmers.

The ETUF chairman and assembly representative Abdel Fatah Ibrahim announced on Monday his preliminary withdrawal from the assembly, pending consultation with the union, reported state-run news agency MENA. The ETUF has 6 million members and claims to represent 25 million Egyptians.

“The committee session demonstrated a lack of interest in workers’ rights by failing to put an explicit provision in the constitution for the rights of workers in the informal sector,” read a statement from Ibrahim.

“A constitution that neglects the workers and farmers deserves a ‘no’ vote in the referendum.  We will stand together and vote ‘no.’”

Moustafa Rostom, spokesman for the ETUF, said that quotas help protect democracy by representing those who would otherwise go unheard.

“Workers need [a quota] because they don’t have enough money to campaign for elections,” said Rostom.  “These things require a lot of money they don’t have.  They will be represented.  That’s why it’s not against democracy.”

Diaa Rashwan, Press Syndicate representative in the Constitutional Assembly, alternatively proposed replacing the workers’ parliamentary quota with a quota for the poor.

According to Rashwan’s plan, a proportion of parliament seats would go to the proportion of the population who earn less than EGP 12,000 per year, as determined by tax records.  Only people who earn less than EGP 24,000 per year would be eligible to run for these seats.

Both women’s rights groups and youth activists have been demanding quotas in parliament as well.  Activist Dalia Al-Asad of the Al-Dostour party said that the consensus amongst women’s rights groups is that women should be guaranteed 30% of the seats in parliament for the first 10 years of the new constitution.

The Administrative Prosecution also protested the decisions taken by the Constituent Assembly regarding the judicial authority on Monday. Noha Al-Sherbiny, administrative prosecutor, said Administrative Prosecution members are holding a sit-in at the prosecution’s club in Manial.

Tensions rose among different judicial authorities after members of the Constituent Assembly had proposed an article which would take the judicial disciplinary board away from the State Council’s jurisdiction and award it to the Administrative Prosecution instead. The proposal, widely applauded by the Administrative Prosecution, was not put up to a vote during Monday’s session, according to Al-Sherbiny.

“Instead, they voted on an entirely different proposed article which trims the Administrative Prosecution’s original jurisdiction,” Al-Sherbiny said, adding that the article passed.

Al-Sherbiny said the Administrative Prosecution will not end its sit-in until the Constituent Assembly meets its demands and grants it jurisdiction over the judicial disciplinary board.

Salmawy announced on Tuesday that the assembly is done with all constitutional articles except those addressing the Armed Forces and governing the upcoming elections. He added that the assembly will begin its final vote on constitutional articles next Sunday. The assembly is expected to be done with the drafting process on 3 December.

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