Sunday’s papers: Egypt’s transition caught between coalescence and feuds

A new law for parliament drafted by a coalition of political forces figured consistently in today’s front pages. State-run Al-Ahram gave the general features of the law, which will be circulated tomorrow, reporting that the parliamentary elections will be contested through a closed list-based system, with the addition of an independents’ list in each constituency. Al-Ahram also revealed that the draft stipulates that MPs should be completely free during parliamentary terms, and can only return to his or her job once the term ends. MPs may not engage in any commercial activity. The minimum age for running in the elections has been lowered to 25 to allow for more youth presence. The customary 50 percent allocation of parliament seats to farmers and laborers was kept in the draft law. Al-Ahram says that all participating parties agreed on the draft, except for Al-Wasat Party.

Further on coalitions, the partisan Al-Wafd daily opens with a celebratory piece about the central role of Al-Wafd Party in bringing together the Democratic Coalition, after it called on parties including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Freedom Party, the incumbent Tagammu and Nasserite parties, and the Karama, Wasat, Democratic Front parties, among others, to get together on 14 June to put together a document that reflects a national accord. The document, yet to be released, will specify the nature of the republic's government (presidential or parliamentarian) and the powers allocated to the president among other matters. The lead story ends with the same celebratory tone, claiming that the mounting divergences and polarization that have loomed since the March referendum have come to an end. “The national coalition for a national unity government is a way of doing collaborative political work that does not exclude any political party, faction or current, so long as it adheres to the principles of the civil state, the rule of law and citizenship as an ultra-constitutional premise.”

The privately owned-Al-Shorouk has also its share of revelations on political coalitions’ joint initiatives. A Popular Committee for the Egyptian Constitution has reportedly produced a draft constitution, dubbed the “revolution’s constitution”, with the work of a 100-member constituent assembly. This included parties' representatives and delegates from youth coalitions. The much contested Article 2 of the 1971 Constitution is amended in the new draft, asserting that Islam is the religion of majority of Egyptians, and is the principal source of legislation, while the Universal Declaration for Human Rights should always be respected. Without many more details about the document itself, the story moves on to indicate through a quote from a member of the assembly that “this suggested constitutional clauses do not represent a legal document but rather a new social contract that upholds democracy and freedom.”

All these initiatives will be submitted to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for review. But regardless of coalitions and the celebration of agreements, tensions continue regarding the best way to go about the transition, the main conflict being whether a constitution should precede and govern the elections, or if elections should come first with the participation of the most prepared political forces. Various political forces advocate the constitution first, while the SCAF and the Brotherhood are the two main forces in the "elections first" camp.

Al-Shorouk runs a front page story about Vice Prime Minister Yehia al-Gamal, presenting his change of opinion with regards the transition in a big headline: “Al-Gamal retreats: The constitution first would mean bypassing the people’s will”, a prevalent argument of those pushing for elections first, who say that in the March referendum the majority voted for elections first. After reports of feuds between Gamal and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, and then Gamal’s resignation request, the SCAF rejected his resignation in an unclear display of tense dynamics between Sharaf and SCAF.

In his daily column in Al-Shorouk, Emad Eddin Hussein reflects on those dynamics by reminding readers that this is the first time in a long time that the cabinet is acting as an actual political player, as opposed to an employee working for the president. In what seems to be a sympathetic approach to Sharaf’s performance, Hussein also points out that the cabinet is dealing with a lot of internal tensions, while it also has to negotiate the protests and strikes surrounding it. At the end, Hussein criticizes the SCAF for rejecting Gamal’s resignation, advises it to let go of sources of tension in the cabinet so it can do its job properly, and calls for a meeting between Sharaf and the SCAF so Sharaf can clearly explain to the generals how harmonious cabinet teamwork can be achieved.

Whether Sharaf will continue to show patience despite the increasing tensions in the cabinet – and whether beyond the headlines we read, there aren’t any hidden dynamics, agreements and disagreements amid the country’s interim rulers – remain unknown.

Egypt's papers:
Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt
Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size
Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run
Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run
Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned
Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned
Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party
Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Arab Nasserist party
Youm7: Weekly, privately owned

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