The Constituent Assembly, tasked with writing the country’s new constitution and chaired by the head of the Cassation Court and Supreme Council of the Judiciary Hossam El-Gheriany discussed on Tuesday in its second and final preparatory meeting, a set of by-laws and appointments.
The CA members voted in five deputy chairmen: Ayman Nour, chairman of the Ghad Al-Thawra Party; Abou El-Ela Madi, chairman of the Wasat Party; constitutional scholar Atef El-Banna; Wafd Party Member of Parliament Mohamed Kamel; and Moncef Naguib Soliman, a judge and member of the church general congregation council.
Muslim Brotherhood member Amr Derag was elected to be secretary general with Salafist MP Ashraf Thabet and political science professors Manar El-Shorbagy and Moatez Bellah Abdel-Fattah as assistant secretary generals.
Independent MP Wahid Abdel-Meguid was chosen to be the assembly’s official spokesperson. CA members voted to keep El-Gheriany as chairman after he offered to resign his post.
El-Gheriany has been criticised by several members for not allowing them enough time to speak and running the assembly “like a court.” “You have elected me and I did not even nominate myself for this position; either you deal with me until the end or you replace me,” El-Gheriany said before calling for a vote. “Those who agree to let me run this assembly the way I run my court, raise your hands,” he said. All members, save one, did so.
The assembly also passed its by-laws, which included changes suggested by former Arab League Secretary General and defeated presidential candidate, Amr Moussa, to the initial draft. Moussa suggested changing article 5 of the by-laws to specify that each article of the constitution requires consensus to pass, and only if consensus cannot be reached should the article be subject to a substantive majority vote (67 out 100) instead of the previous version of the clause that had the substantive vote as the initial step. The suggestion was voted on and passed by majority.
The by-laws specify that the assembly is to have four specialised permanent committees with the option of creating ad hoc committees if needed. The specialised committees are the Basic Principles of the State Committee, the Rights and Freedoms Committee, the System of Government Committee, and the Oversight and Regulatory Bodies Committee.
There will be two other committees: one to receive suggestions and talk to several sectors and institutions of Egyptian society and another for drafting and language. The assembly will also have a website to receive the suggestions of citizens for the new constitution.
Specialised committees, each consisting of 15 members, will have their first meeting next Saturday and will, from then on, meet three times a week on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Members will be allowed to sit on a maximum of two committees and each committee may form sub-committees if needed.
The Constituent Assembly has been given a second chance after the Supreme Administrative Court postponed on Tuesday a decision on dissolving it to September 4. It can conceivably now finish drafting the constitution before that date rendering a dissolution ruling moot.
However, as per the supplementary constitutional decree recently released by the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces, it still faces difficulty. The decree gives several parties, including the head of SCAF, the right to veto any clause the assembly drafts if it conflicts with the “goals of the revolution” or constitutional principles from Egypt’s previous constitutions. If the assembly overturns the veto, the issue is referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court for deliberation. If the assembly does not finish drafting the constitution in time for the court date and is dissolved, then according to article 60 B of the decree, SCAF gets to appoint another assembly.
This would be the second time the CA is dissolved. The Supreme Administrative Court had dissolved it in April for including members of parliament in its membership. The court said that according to the March 2011 Constitutional Decree, MPs were responsible for electing the Constituent Assembly but could not elect themselves. MPs then elected a second Assembly but this one also included parliamentarians, which is why the Assembly faces another court case.