Egypt Factions Scramble as Deadline Nears on Constitutionhttp://nyti.ms/TlLxsH
8:13 PM - 28 Nov 12 · Details
Egypt Factions Scramble as Deadline Nears on Constitution
Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
Published: November 28, 2012
CAIRO — Leaders of the assembly drafting a new constitution said Wednesday that they would complete their work by the next morning, a move that appeared aimed at trying to defuse a political crisis that has gripped Egypt since the president issued an edict that put his decisions above judicial scrutiny.
If successful, the assembly could make moot the power struggle between President Mohamed Morsi and the courts because the president’s expanded powers were set to expire with the implementation of a new constitution.
But given the heated environment, it seemed just as likely that a draft constitution — one adopted over the objections of the opposition — would instead inflame an escalating political battle between Mr. Morsi and his critics. On Tuesday the opposition brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to denounce his attempt to assert a power above the courts and over the Islamist domination of the assembly drafting the national charter.
The dual battles raging with the courts and in the streets began six days ago with Mr. Morsi’s decree. But both his attempt to claim the new powers and the opposition backlash are fired by the deadline on Sunday of a court ruling that could short-circuit the writing of the constitution by breaking up the assembly. Courts have already dissolved an earlier assembly as well as the newly elected Parliament.
Mr. Morsi has said he issued the edict because he learned the Supreme Constitutional Court was poised on Sunday to strike down the current assembly, disrupting Egypt’s already chaotic transition.
While some judges on the court are esteemed as impartial, all its members were picked by the former president, Hosni Mubarak. Some are loyalists, and others have deep fears of the Islamists.
The Constitutional Assembly’s announcement of its intent to wrap up the draft constitution by Thursday could render the case irrelevant. The assembly’s charter might be sent to a referendum even if the court dissolved the chamber, unless the court nullifies the draft charter along with the assembly.
But the assembly’s rush is also prompting charges that it is letting politics cramp the drafting of a document intended as the definitive social contract. “Nonsensical,” Amr Moussa, a former diplomat under Mr. Mubarak and a former rival candidate to Mr. Morsi, told Reuters.
Many of the non-Islamists on the 100-hundred member panel — about a quarter, according to the best estimates —have already walked out, damaging hopes that the constitution might be presented as consensus document.
In recent weeks, many have complained that the Islamists running the assembly were closing off debates in an attempt to push through the document.
Hossam el-Gheriani, the chief of the assembly, said Wednesday that voting would begin at 10 a.m. the next day. “Come back to us so that we welcome you and you can be our partner,” he pleaded with the boycotters.
As a practical matter, the Islamist majority in the assembly could pass the charter on its own, and probably muster the votes to pass it in a public referendum as well, which the president’s advisers said he was willing to accept.
Mr. Morsi’s own bid to expand his power for the duration of the transition suffered a blow on Wednesday when the Court of Cassation and the Cairo Appeals Court announced that they were joining a national judges strike in protest of his decree.
The two benches are the two highest appeals courts in Egypt. And unlike the Supreme Constitutional Court, their judges are selected by their peers on the basis of seniority and accomplishment, so they cannot be dismissed as Mubarak loyalists.
“It is unprecedented and could be a game changer,” said Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an independent human rights group.
Together with the demonstration the night before, Mr. Bahgat said, the court’s action “dispels the myth the president is only opposed by Mubarak-appointed judges and ‘liberal whiners.’ ”
The cassation court’s decision to join the strike also cast doubt on what the president’s spokesman has described as an agreement about the issue that the president reached Monday night with the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, a top panel overseeing the courts.
After the council held a long meeting with Mr. Morsi, his spokesman described an understanding with the council on an interpretation of the president’s decree that narrowed its scope so that it might fit within Egyptian court precedents.
But the president of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary is also the chief of the Court of Cassation, and so the decision by the Cassation Court to join the judges’ strike suggests that the Supreme Council may not have agreed.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Constitutional Court fired back at the president in its first statement since his decree. “The Constitutional Court has been under a fierce, unjust and organized attack” since it dissolved the Parliament, Judge Maher Sami said in a televised statement.
Since then, he said, the Islamists “became under the illusion that a personal enmity exists between them and the judges of this court, and they started having bloody revenge tendencies, and the desire for retribution caused them to lose reason, conscience and morality.”
“The court will not be deterred by threats, menace or blackmail,” the statement continued.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.