The Egyptian Administrative Court (roughly the equivalent of Canada’s Federal Court) was right to make an order on Tuesday suspending the panel that had been trying to draft a new constitution for Egypt, on the ground that it was being dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist allies, rather than expressing a broader range of opinions and interests.
Already, not only had the Coptic Orthodox Church withdrawn its representatives in frustration from the Constituent Assembly, but so had Al-Azhar University, a literally medieval institution that is a bastion of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, famous throughout the Muslim world. Indeed, Egypt’s Constitutional Court – which may yet have to rule on an appeal in this matter – had pulled out, too.
A constituent assembly should never be the creature of a parliamentary majority. A constitution should provide rules and principles that embody a consensus, within which all political parties can operate.
Egypt is in the unfortunate position of having had its constitution suspended shortly after Hosni Mubarak, the former president, was pressured into resigning. The events in Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring as a whole – in so many ways admirable – resulted in a constitutional vacuum: an executive, a legislature and a judiciary without an authoritative, overarching governing document (or generally accepted unwritten conventions). The Speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Saad al-Katatny, was given the task of appointing the Constituent Assembly. Mr. Katatny is an MP of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Not surprisingly, he nominated 50 MPs from his own party (including himself as chairman) and from the Salafist Nur Party and a dozen or more Islamist sympathizers, out of a total 100 members.
The Muslim Brotherhood is sending out mixed signals about whether or not the Administrative Court’s decision will be appealed. But all concerned would do much better to appoint a new set of members that will give legitimacy to the Constituent Assembly, and consequently to the draft constitution that will emerge from it.