Members of Egypt’s parliament have met to vote for members of a constitutional assembly, but the process was marred when dozens of secular MPs walked out of the session, accusing Islamist parties of trying to dominate the new panel.
It was their second try at choosing the 100-member panel. The first assembly was appointed in March, and quickly suspended by court order amid allegations that it was unrepresentative of Egyptian society.
After weeks of haggling, the country’s political factions finally seemed to reach a deal last week. They agreed on a 50-50 split between Islamists and secular representatives, with blocs of seats guaranteed for legal scholars, representatives of religious institutions, trade unionists and other groups.
But their agreement quickly unravelled, with secular critics complaining that the breakdown was actually weighted in favour of Islamist groups.
Some of the MPs who walked out of Tuesday’s session objected to allocating a specific number of seats for individual political parties.
“We are against dividing up the seats based on parties in the two assemblies, or party shares. We are against discriminating against the rest of society,” said Amr Hamzawy, a liberal MP from Cairo.
‘Not a game of football’
Ziad Bahaa el-Din, from the Social Democratic Party, criticised what he called “counting heads”.
“This is not a game of football; this is about drafting a constitution,” he said. “And to do that you must build a broader sense of consensus and unity. Once you start negotiating, one person here, another there, then by definition the consensus-building process has collapsed.”
The supreme constitutional court, which was supposed to receive a seat on the assembly, announced that it would not choose a representative in order to avoid “becom[ing] party to ongoing disagreements in the political scene”.
But the vote continued in spite of the criticism. A total of 39 seats were allocated to political parties, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party – which commands a plurality in the parliament – receiving the largest share.
The vote could be parliament’s last major action. The supreme court is due to rule on Thursday on whether the parliament is unconstitutional; a lower court found that the electoral process – allowing political parties to compete with independent candidates for some seats – might have violated the constitution.
If the supreme court agrees, the parliament would be dissolved and new elections would be called.
All of this comes just a few days before the presidential runoff election scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, which pits Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s candidate, against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The two men received the largest share of votes in the first round of balloting last month.