Egypt’s top court to rule on constitutional panel
The Associated Press | October 24,2012
CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Tuesday asked the country’s highest tribunal to rule on whether to disband the body tasked with writing a new constitution. The delay in a ruling is a possible blow to liberals, since it could give Islamists time to finish drafting the contested document.
The referral of the case to a higher court is the latest twist in a bitter struggle between Islamists and their secular rivals over Egypt’s first constitution since it set out on a path to democracy, following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak last year.
Islamists, who dominate the constitutional assembly, are racing to put a draft to a public referendum before the judges rule.
The work and the composition of the 100-member constitutional assembly have been the subject of fierce debate. The focus is the potential for stricter implementation of Islamic law, or Shariah, and empowerment of religious scholars that liberals fear could signal a turn toward a theocratic state.
Along with the contentious role of religion in the nation’s affairs, Islamists and liberals are haggling over other proposed articles relating to women rights, freedom of worship, presidential powers, immunity for the military from civilian oversight and undercutting the powers of the Supreme Constitutional Court.
Supporters of the panel say it was set up by an elected parliament and broadly represents Egypt’s political factions. Critics counter that the process is dominated by majority Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Morsi, and more radical groups.
A new constitution would be a key step in establishing a democracy to replace the Mubarak’s regime, ousted last year in an uprising led by progressive, secular activists.
But in the nearly 20 months since then, Islamists have emerged as the strongest political force. Morsi was elected president after the Brotherhood and the even more conservative Salafis party swept parliamentary elections, leaving the liberals with minimal representation. The parliament was later disbanded.
Instead of ruling on a petition submitted by liberals challenging the legitimacy of the panel, Judge Nazih Tangho of the High Administrative Court on Tuesday sent the case to Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court.
The decision sets up a new showdown between the Supreme Constitutional Court, packed with secularist judges, and Egypt’s ruling and powerful Brotherhood. The same court dissolved the Brotherhood-led parliament, ruled the election law unconstitutional and turned down Morsi’s attempt to restore it upon his election in June.
Last week, the Constitutional Court criticized the panel’s move to strip the court’s power right to rule on laws passed by parliament. The proposed articles also maintain the president’s grip over the court, as he appoints its head and members.
It was not known when the top court would rule on the petition. However, the ruling could come after the people have voted on the constitution.
The panel drafting it said it could be ready for public discussion as early as the first half of November. The new constitution then will have to be put to a public referendum within 30 days.
Tangho said he referred to the case to the Constitutional Court to look into a law Morsi passed in July that gave the constitutional panel legal immunity, a clause he said needs vetting because no one should be above legal supervision.
“The law was meant to prevent the High Administrative Court from looking into appeals ... against the panel,” he said.