Bloomberg News

Egyptian Parties Quit Constitutional Panel Over Islamists

March 27, 2012

Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg

Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE. Photographer: Shawn Baldwin/Bloomberg

Some of Egypt’s leading secular political parties walked out of a panel drafting the country’s next constitution, as a court said it would rule next month on a challenge to the committee’s legitimacy.

Parties including the Free Egyptians, founded by billionaire Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian Social Democrats and the Tagammu Party announced at a press conference in Cairo yesterday that they were leaving the newly-elected 100-seat constitutional committee along with a number of prominent lawmakers such as Amr Hamzawy and Mohamed Abu Hamed. They criticized what they said were attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to monopolize the selection of members.

“We withdrew in defense of the constitution and democracy,” Tagammu deputy leader Samir Fayad said in an interview at the party’s headquarters. “There is one political bloc monopolizing the framework of the constituent committee, and this runs counter to the interests” of Egyptians as a whole. The groups have complained that the Muslim Brotherhood, which holds a plurality in parliament, is ignoring the interests of minority groups.

The twin developments added to the turmoil surrounding the transition to democracy in the Arab world’s most populous nation following last year’s uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak.

Yesterday, the Brotherhood met for more than seven hours to discuss fielding a presidential candidate in May elections, a move it had earlier ruled out. The group’s Shura Council adjourned the meeting until April 3, the Brotherhood said in an e-mailed statement. The meeting was marked by heated debate over whether the candidate should come from within or outside the Brotherhood, the official Middle East News Agency reported, without saying how it obtained the information.

‘Lack of Certainty’

There’s “a lack of certainty about how Egypt is moving,” Said Hirsh, Middle East economist at London-based Capital Economics Ltd., said in a telephone interview. “The issues that the Brotherhood are focusing on are distracting from issues like the economy that are much more important in Egypt.”

Separately, a Cairo administrative court said it would rule on April 10 on around a dozen complaints before considering the committee’s legitimacy. At issue is the decision to reserve 50 percent of the seats for lawmakers.

Egypt’s transition has set back the economy’s recovery, with output growing at the slowest pace in about two decades. Hirsh said he forecasts an expansion of about 1 percent for the current fiscal year, accelerating to 3 percent in the following one. For a stronger performance, “we’d need to see some political stability,” which hasn’t happened so far, he said.

Generals Criticized

The walkout is merely part of Egypt’s emerging democratic process, where all parties have to hammer out their differences, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“It’s the opening act,” Alterman said in an interview. “What would worry me is if none of this were happening -- that would suggest a few people got together in a back room and dealt themselves in and everyone else out.”

The Brotherhood, whose political arm holds almost half of the seats in parliament, has criticized the generals who took over from Mubarak for ignoring calls to fire the current interim government, as well as general mismanagement.

The ruling military council has countered by rejecting “baseless” accusations in a statement that publicly recalled the 1954 crackdown on the Brotherhood. “We ask everyone to be aware of the lessons of history to avoid mistakes from a past we do not want to return to,” it said.

Inflation (EGICHIY), currency depreciation pressures and an agreement with the International Monetary Fund over a possible $3.2 billion loan should be at the center of politicians’ concerns, analysts say.

Political Novices

Eurasia Group Mideast analyst Hani Sabra notes the inexperience of two key players on the political scene -- the Brotherhood and the military.

“What we’ve seen with the issue of concluding a deal with the IMF is indicative of the fact that Egypt can’t afford having people learn on the job,” Sabra said in a telephone interview. “We’re going to continue to see these missteps by people who are politically naïve,” he said, referring to the dispute between the Brotherhood and the military.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at teltablawy@bloomberg.net; Abdel Latif Wahba in Cairo at alatifwahba@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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