The pursuit of independence

Published on Al-Ahram weeekly, by , 15 – 21 December 2011.

During the rule of Hosni Mubarak, Mahmoud El-Khodeiri was one of the most vociferous advocates of an independent judiciary and a staunch advocate of social and political reform. In 2009 he resigned as deputy chief justice of the Court of Cassation to protest against executive interference. Following a fierce campaign in which he beat NDP stalwart Tareq Talaat Mustafa to win the Alexandria seat of Al-Raml in the first stage of the parliamentary elections, El-Khodeiri is now set to join the People’s Assembly. He speaks with Mona El-Nahhas about the challenges facing the new parliament … //   

… Until a new constitution is drafted, what is the constitutional position of the People’s Assembly?

  • Parliament has two authorities, the promulgation of legislation and questioning the government. In the future it might also assume responsibility for naming of the cabinet though this will depend on the governing system which the coming constitution adopts. In case of a parliamentary system it will be up to the house to name the government.

What criteria should be adopted in selecting members of the committee mandated to draft the new constitution?

  • Alongside selected MPs the committee should contain representatives of all the country’s political trends. Experts in constitutional law should also be invited to take part in the drafting process, as well as the heads of professional syndicates and those intellectuals and public figures known for their neutrality.

What kind of government do you consider best for Egypt?

  • I would prefer to see a parliamentary system. After such long and bitter experience of a presidential system it is doubtful that the public would be willing to see so much power once more concentrated into the office of president.
  • We need a powerful parliament, though that does not mean a marginal role for either the presidency or the cabinet. Each should have its area of competencies defined by the constitution. Spreading authority across all three would guarantee the kind of balanced system to which we all aspire.

How would you assess the performance of SCAF?

  • It has become very clear that SCAF is not qualified to play a political role. It has issued contradictory decrees. Its members have issued conflicting, often very controversial, statements. SCAF can have no role in a civil government. The current mess will end once parliamentary polls are over. With legislative authority removed from SCAF, things will become more normal.

You don’t expect SCAF to interfere in parliament’s legislative work?

  • I am convinced this cannot happen. If parliament fails to ensure its own independence it will lose people’s trust. Having derived its legitimacy from the people parliament is responsible to them. It cannot be swayed by influence from other quarters. For years people longed for an independent parliament. There can be no interference in its affairs.

There is widespread speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which backed your parliamentary campaign, would like to see you become People’s Assembly speaker. Is this true?

  • The election is not over. There are two stages yet to be completed and until they are it is impossible to say with certainty which group will emerge as the largest parliamentary force. It is true that the Brotherhood has said they will support my nomination as speaker. There have also been expressions of support from the media and the public. It is, though, too early to decide the issue.

(full long interview text).

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