A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shura Council Convenes to Do Whatever it is it Does

 Earlier this year I noted some of the mysteries surrounding Egypt's Upper House of Parliament, the Shura Council; the biggest one being "What's it supposed to do?" Other than providing a lot of appointive positions (a third of its members are appointed, two-thirds elected), it's official duties are mostly to ratify constitutional amendments, treaties, etc. The newly-elected Shura Council met for the first time today, electing Ahmad Fahmy of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party as its Speaker. The FJP won a solid majority of 105 of the 180 elected seats in the Shura Council elections, with extraordinarily low turnout in the elections (the runoff of round two got only a 7.2% turnout).

The elections cost a lot of money, and many people were openly wondering why Egypt even needed an upper house. Many liberals (and others) think the Council should be abolished. This would seem to be logical, but the current government (and thus presumably the SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood — in other words, the two bodies whose opinions can be implemented — disagree.

The government wants to strengthen it, not abolish it:
The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, counselor Mohammed Attiya, said the meeting will be held under the chairmanship of the Speaker of the People’s Assembly Saad el-Katatni.
He told reporters that the Shura Council has become “worthy of obtaining a stronger parliamentary role by increasing its legislative and oversight competencies in parallel with the People’s Assembly to strengthen democratic life.”

He added that the role of the Upper House, or Shura Council, would “achieve balance in the performance of the parliamentary institution, especially since it includes the competencies needed by the country at the present stage of the Shura Council,” and rejected the abolition of the Upper House under calls to reduce state expenditures.
Nor is the government alone. Since the FJP dominates the lower house and controls the upper house outright, guess which party (surprise, surprise!) also wants to strengthen the role of the Shura Council?

One new role the Council is already slated to play is joining with the People's Assembly in choosing the body to write the new Constitution. The two chambers will assemble Saturday to choose that Constitutional Assembly to write the new charter.

Precisely what the Shura Council will do after that remains to be seen.

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