Tomorrow the elections for the third round of the People's Assembly in Egypt begin. Meanwhile,
the ruling Military Council, in Field Marshal Tantawi's name for once, has moved up the convening of both houses of a new Parliament by holding the Upper House elections in two stages rather than the previously announced three. The original schedule was posted here; here; the new one is described here.
This will mean that the Upper House, the Shura Council, will finish the electoral cycle and convene in February, rather than March. While still a little vague, SCAF has promised a Presidential election by July and is talking about a campaign beginning in in April. Unless they change the order of things this seems to envision drafting the new constitution and putting it to a referendum between late February and April, unless the Presidential campaign starts before the President's powers are defined.
This will please the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, who want a working Parliament as quickly as possible, but there are still a lot of questions.
One of these which that I have harbored for some 30 years now is what the Shura Council is actually for. Back in the pre-1952 coup years the Egyptian Parliament was bicameral, with the Upper House called the Senate. When Nasser reintroduced Parliamentary life after 1952 he created a unicameral Parliament called the People's Assembly. In 1980 Anwar Sadat amended the constitution to create the Shura Council (Maglis al-Shura) as the Upper House of a bicameral legislature. I'm not sure most Egyptians know what it's for. I know I don't. It doesn't do much; it has to ratify constitutional amendments and treaties, and otherwise mostly "advises" and "proposes." The British House of Lords in its modern form isn't very powerful either, but it's a historical vestige, not a modern creation.
The key may be the fact that a third of its members are appointed by the President; the other two-third are elected. It gives the President a lot more sinecures to offer cronies, or potentially in a truly changed Egypt, elder statesmen and wise folks, positions of influence, which if I understand it correctly is sort of what the Canadian Senate is for.
Anyway, once round three of the People's Assembly elections are over, it's on to the Shura Council, but now in two phases rather than three.