Hosam al-Massah: The Disabled Member of Egypt’s Constitutional Committee

Hosam al-Massah

Hosam al-Massah

From my recent article on Arab West Report, in a series of interviews with members of the committee which wrote the new constitution. Hosam al-Massah is afflicted with cerebral palsy, yet works as a lawyer in the Ministry of Finance. He represented Egypt’s disabled community through the National Council for Persons with Disabilities:

He certainly believes the constitution supports his community. The first article to tackle was the hardest, he said, because the idea of adding clauses specifically mentioning the disabled was a new concept for many. This was Article 53, establishing equality and non-discrimination, and the disabled are mentioned alongside factors of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, color, language, social class, and political or geographical affiliation.

Massah was even able to mention ‘dwarfs’ specifically in the constitutional text. But his biggest triumph, explained in detail, was how he ensured ‘adequate representation’ for the disabled in parliament:

He did not attempt like some groups, however, to argue early on for a quota. He calculated he would not have the influence to push it through, and did not want to appear weak and spoil the effort at the beginning.

Instead, Massāh took advantage of the controversy that emerged over Articles 243 and 244 together. Article 243 concerned giving ‘appropriate representation’ to workers and farmers, who earlier had a longstanding 50 percent parliament quota removed. There was no real objection to 243, but members were aware of opposition to 244 and preemptively voted against 243 in order to force their hand. 33 members voted in favor, but 13 said no, he tallied in his notes. In turn, and lacking any mention of the disabled at this point, Article 244 also failed to reach the 75 percent threshold, with 27 in favor and 15 against.

Committee rules stipulated that if an article passed with less than 75 percent, it be discussed again. ‘Amr Mūsa as committee head called the members into private chamber, and it is here Massāh took advantage of his opportunity. He found three or four allies, and said he would not vote for Article 243 unless people with disabilities were added to the text of Article 244. In the end, both articles passed, with 46 and 44 votes respectively. Celebrating his achievement and responding to my marveling at his acumen, he smiled wryly. “I am a lawyer,” he remarked.

Massah comments also on military articles and the system of taxation, and the article seeks also to convey the color of his exuberant personality. Please click here to read the rest at Arab West Report.

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