Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court on Tuesday effectively suspended the work of the 100-member panel responsible for drafting the country's new constitution after ruling in favor of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the formation of the panel. The lawsuit was filed by a number of prominent Egyptian lawyers [Ahram Online report] challenging the process by which the panel was formed. Specifically, the lawsuit asserts that having half of the panel chosen from parliament violates a 1994 Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court prohibiting members of parliament from electing themselves to certain positions. The composition of the constitutional panel has been intensely debated, and the domination of the proceedings by Islamists [JURIST reports] has been extremely controversial. At least 20 percent of the members of the panel have indicated that they will withdraw from the panel [Bloomberg report], criticizing the under-representation of secularists. Islamists currently hold 65 percent of the seats on the committee, including 50 seats being held by members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Salafist Nour Party [BBC backgrounders]. The court referred the case to the State Council, which could ultimately refer the issue to the Supreme Constitutional Court. The FJP has stated that they are appealing [Ahram Online report] the court's decision, urging the panel to ignore the court's ruling, which they believe is illegitimate.
The debate surrounding the composition of constitutional panel follows an Egyptian court ruling in February that the elaborate voting system in the parliamentary elections was unconstitutional [JURIST report]. The make-up of the constitutional panel could determine whether there will be an expansion of rights in the country. In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on Egypt's newly elected parliament to pursue an agenda to reform nine areas of Egyptian law [JURIST report] that impede freedom and restrict rights. Some of the suggested reforms included ending the state of emergency, reforming police law and expanding freedom of expression, strengthening the criminal penalties for police abuse, amending Egypt's definition of torture to be in line with international standards and allowing independent NGOs to operate lawfully in the country.