A final say

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Essam El-Din, 1 – 7 March 2012.

Ahmed Fahmi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was elected unopposed as chairman of the upper consultative house of Shura Council on Tuesday. Two deputies, Tarek El-Sehri of the Salafist Nour Party and Mustafa Hamoudi of the liberal Wafd Party, were also elected.  

Fahmi’s election came in an inaugural procedural session during which 180 newly elected members were also due to be sworn in. On Wednesday the council elected the heads of 12 committees.

The inaugural procedural meeting of the Shura Council followed a two-stage election which ended on 22 February with Islamists winning more than 80 per cent of the seats on a disappointingly low voter turnout. The conservative FJP won 105 — or 58.3 per cent — of the 180 seats up for grabs, while the ultra conservative Salafist Nour Party clinched 45. The liberal-oriented Wafd Party and the Egyptian Bloc trailed third and fourth, with 14 seats and eight seats.

The Horreya and the Democratic Peace parties — both offshoots of the now defunct National Democratic Party, a major pillar of the Mubarak regime — got four seats in total (two per cent) with the remaining four seats going to independents. Despite the strength of Islamist representation, no single party has a majority since in addition to the 180 elected members the Shura Council includes 90 appointees.

Tuesday’s session was held without non-elected members who are expected to be appointed only once a president is in place … //

… Many political forces abstained from fielding candidates. Liberal forces and youth groups such as the 6 April Movement argue that the low voter turnout — Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, chairman of the Supreme Elections Committee (SEC), estimates it at less than 13 per cent — sends a clear message that the council has no credibility and should be abolished.

On 26 February Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohamed Attia insisted that there was no possibility of the council being annulled.

ñThe Shura Council is worthy of gaining full supervisory and legislative powers on an equal footing with the People’s Assembly,” said Attia, though he provided no details how this would be achieved. ñThe existence of a functioning bicameral system in Egypt ensures a healthy political and democratic life.”

Attia criticised ña hostile campaign against Shura Council in the media”.

ñThe political benefits of an effective Shura Council will far outweigh its financial costs,” he argued, adding, somewhat cryptically, ñthat this is not to mention its high-quality and prestigious contribution to scientific life.”

Attia attributed the low turnout to ñcitizens’ exhaustion after three months of polls for the People’s Assembly.”

The Shura Council was created by Anwar El-Sadat in 1980 and charged with supervising the media and licensing political parties. The chair of the Shura Council served as de-facto head of the Higher Press Council and the Political Parties Committee. The council was also entrusted with preparing studies on pressing political and socio-economic issues. In 2007, it began debating new legislation and the annual budget though the final say on both of these was left to the People’s Assembly.

Safwat El-Sherif, appointed chair of the Shura Council in 2004, is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of manslaughter and illegal profiteering. (full text).

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