10 April 2011
The Military Council’s recent declaration announcing the Constitutional decree and the new law of political parties has created plenty of controversy.
The new law is supposed to ease curbs on the formation of political parties and see major changes to the formalities imposed by the Political Parties Affairs Committee of the previous regime.
The first few Articles of the Constitutional decree stipulate that Egypt is a democratic State; it is piece and parcel of the Arab nation; Islam is the official religion of the State and Arabic its language; and Islamic sharia the main source of legislation. Egyptians are the source of power.
The decree stipulates the freedom of public ownership, as well as the freedom of expression, religion and sanctity of peoples’ homes. No citizen may be arrested unless under official charges.
As far as elections are concerned, the decree stipulates full judicial supervision and a four-year term for the president, to be renewed only once. The president must appoint a vice-president within 60 days of his election.
The elected members of the new parliament or the president himself must appoint a 100-member constituent assembly to draft a new Constitution within six months of its appointment.
The 50 per cent quota of workers and farmers in the People’s Assembly (PA) which figured in the 1971 Constitution and which lately came under fire remains untouched.
The Constitutional decree reduces the authority of the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s Parliament, and organises the responsibilities of the judicial authorities, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the National Security Council and the police. The responsibilities of the SCAF in its temporary capacity as president are also specified by the decree. The SCAF issues and approves the State’s policy and budget; it appoints members of the upper and lower houses of parliament; it represents Egypt inside and outside its borders; it signs treaties; it appoints the prime minister, his deputy, ministers and government officials. The cabinet collaborates with the SCAF in formulating and promogulating laws. According to the decree, the state of emergency remains for six months and can only be renewed once according to an approval of the People’s Assembly after a public referendum is conducted
Under the new law, nascent parties should notify a legal committee once they have at least 5,000 members from at least ten out of Egypt’s 29 governorates, and with at least 300 members from each governorate.
This legal committee is required to decide on the party’s eligibility within 30 days. If party founders receive no reply within a month, the party automatically acquires official status. Within eight days of the initial notification, the new party’s founders should publish their names in two widely-read newspapers at their personal expense.
The law stipulates general regulations that organise work within the parties such that its principles and policies do not contradict with the basic Constitutional principles or with the fundamentals of Egypt’s national security. The parties’ principles, programmes, activities and selection of leaders and members must not be based on religion, geography or race. There should also be no discrimination on the basis of gender, language, ethnicity or religion.
Parties must not establish military or paramilitary wings; must not be part of any foreign political organisation; must declare their principles, goals and financial means and must not accept donations or funds from any foreign individuals or entities.
Under the new law, parties can fund non-commercial activities such as issuing newspapers as long as the primary goal of these is to serve the party and promote its vision.
“There was no dialogue concerning the Constitutional decree between the SCAF on the one hand and the political parties and intellectuals on the other, and this is the real problem,” Salah Eissa, editor-in chief of the State-owned weekly Al-Qahira told Watani. “Conducting a referendum on the amendments of some articles rather than on all of them reflects a Constitutional conflict.”
Mr Eissa described the new political parties law as ‘crippling’, especially considering the 5,000-member condition for the formation of a party. “This implies much effort in the foundation of a party, while we have only until September for parties to be formed and become active before the upcoming parliamentary elections,” he commented. He criticised the clause that compelled the founders of a new party to print in two widely circulated newspapers the announcement of the formation of their party including the full list of 5000 founding members. Not all founders of new parties can sustain the burden of a high expense at its inception, Mr Eissa insisted.
Mr Eissa denounced what he described as the ‘flexibility’ of the new law where the establishment of parties on a religious basis is concerned. He suggested that the law should have been more firm in its banning of religious-based parties or slogans. This, he said, could open the door for civic parties to shift to being religious parties.
Liberals, take action
Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a leading figure of the leftist Tagammu, party suggested that the new Constitutional decree and the political parties law should serve to place the Egyptian liberal movement or movements before their responsibility in defending their much-aspired civil state. With the community in discord as to the role religion may play in politics, liberal forces have no option but to stand up against the formation of religion-based political parties.
The Constitutional decree is a temporary Constitution that will be in force until the formulation of a new permanent Constitution and its approval by a public referendum, according to the timeframe suggested by the current decree. An article written by liberal thinker Amr Hamzawi and published in the daily independent Al-Shorouq, explained that it was not the role of the Constitutional decree to formulate a new Constitution. It merely suggested different Constitutional principles and rules to assess the public reaction to them, he pointed out. Dr Hamzawi applauded the Constitutional decree for not giving the SCAF more powers than they were given when they were assigned with the responsibility of ruling the country on 11 February 2011. Furthermore, the decree determined the tools and timeframe through which power would be transferred.
Dr Hamzawi concluded that the Constitutional decree was a milestone on the road towards democracy in that it would empower Parliament and the next elected president to play their legitimate roles. Hamzawi applauded the SCAF for not exploiting the current Constitutional and political void to benefit from outstanding powers.