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Constitutional debates heating up
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 04 - 09 - 2012

While Egypt's new constitution is being drafted, heated debates are taking place in society regarding several articles that were the 1971 constitution's cornerstones. One such bone of contention is the question whether the workers' and farmers' parliamentary quota should be upheld.
In the wake of the 1952 revolution 50 per cent of parliamentary seats were allocated to farmers and workers, since they had suffered from social injustice under the monarchy.
Such representation has been maintained ever since, but opponents believe that the original purpose has been abandoned a long time ago. Those in favour of the article say that it protects the blue collars and hard-working farmers from the ambitions of the business community.
According to Atef el-Banna, a professor of constitutional law and a member of the Constituent Assembly, a decision has not yet been reached. He did however point out that there was a tendency in the Assembly to agree on a certain quota for farmers and workers, which could be around 30 per cent.
El-Banna is of the view that the circumstances have changed much since the 1950s and 60s, a fact that dictates the cancellation of the old quota. On the other hand the rights of those affected need to be upheld; they should be able to be nominated and run in future parliamentary elections.
He explained that in recent years the parliamentary seats allocated to workers and farmers were occupied by landowners, who could be police officers, businessmen, senior civil servants or members of several professions.
“The quota was implemented in the 1950s for political reasons; mainly because the new rulers were very keen to get the support of these two sectors," el-Banna told Al-Ahram Arabic daily.
In any case, he added, when the new constitution was finally drafted it would be put to a public referendum; the voters would have the final say about several of the much-debated articles.
Calling the representation of workers and farmers ‘flawed', Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, the former deputy chief of the Cassation Court, argued that the old nomination criteria did not bring ‘real' farmers and workers to the parliament.
“This is the reason why legislation related to this sector usually missed the point and as a result didn't meet the envisaged reform targets."
He opined that all elected parliamentarians, regardless of their cultural background, would have to be versatile in terms of the ‘culture of reality' and sufficiently qualified to fulfill their assigned tasks as lawmakers. There would be no need to make classifications; the voters should elect candidates committed to public issues and concerns.
The parliamentary representation of workers and farmers is getting centre stage attention since the post-January revolution legislature came under extensive scrutiny due to its role as a monitor of the government's performance and as a law maker.
Egypt is looking forward to having a new parliament. The first freely elected parliament dominated by an Islamist majority was dissolved more than two months ago by means of a constitutional court ruling.
Mahmud Emara, a businessman, told the newspaper that a parliament is not a suitable place to defend the rights of workers and farmers, and particularly not by allocating a certain number of seats to them. He also wondered what the future role of trade unions would be.

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