In Ibn Roshd Salon: Experts and politicians express fears about amending the Egyptian Constitution

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

Activists and representatives of various Egyptian political movements warned against any attempts targeting the discharge of President Mubarak’s decree to amend article 76 of the Constitution purporting the election of the President. They had some differences among them about assessing the motives behind Mubarak’s decision. They all agreed about the necessity for “supplements” to this decree to put it under actual execution, and to stay far from the “Tunisian” style for Presidency nomination.

Bahey El Din Hassan, Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), in a seminar organized by the Institute under the title “Replacing referendum with election… a political reform or a step towards the Tunisian style?”, explained the surprise caused by the President’s declaration demanding the People’s Assembly and Shura Council to amend article 76 of the Constitution, especially that 4 weeks before the announcement, there were prior declarations, just before his departure to the African Summit, where he refused the concept of amending the constitution before the next referendum and parliamentary elections. He described the request to amend the constitution as “invalid”. Prior to this declaration, there were dialogues between the ruling and the opposition parties, where the opposition gave concessions to the ruling party to abandon the idea of requesting the amendment of the Constitution, at least before the coming referendum.

This was also preceded by similar declarations by the Secretary General of the Ruling Party and Minister of Interior. Both excluded the probability of amending the constitution, and this made the President’s declaration a major surprise because there was no advance notice.

Hassan also explained that after the declaration to amend the constitution, three writings were issued by Egyptian thinkers and intellectuals blessing the step, although they, before this declaration, opposed any request for amendment or even mention of any comprehensive constitutional reform.

Hassan posed some questions about the reasons behind resorting to this amendment which seems like a revolution, as he expressed it, from being an invalid amendment to starting it and considering it a democratic revolution in Egypt. Also about the content of this expression, and whether it is a qualitative event to take place in a special way in the next elections or it will be just one of the political life scenes for the next coming years, and whether this initiative is a step on the path to political reform in Egypt or a step imported from the Tunisian experience which Egypt seeks to benefit from?.

In reviewing responses to these questions, the Secretary General of the Arab Nasserist Party, Ahmed Hassan, responded that since its establishment, the Party is still requesting some amendments, most importantly, a Constitutional amendment, specifically article 76, in order to create democratic implementation. This demand was exclusively requested by the Nasserist, party not any other party, which postponed the mention of amendments until after the next referendum and Parliamentary elections. However, the Party still demands amending article 76 related to the period of presidency, as well as article 75 related to authorities of the President, in addition to a request to cancel the martial Law.

Hassan considered that the declaration about amending article 76 alone is not enough and does not satisfy the demands of the Party, because practicing a political life is integrated and we cannot abridge the Constitution articles, but since amendment ahs taken place, it has to be dealt with within the framework of necessary guarantees to activate it.

He explained that the most important of such guarantees is a bundle of new laws following the last amendment to directly reorganize practicing political rights, because, in his opinion, parties cannot practice their legitimate rights and face congregations under the Marshall Law, and if parties are excluded from conditions for nomination which were not announced in a final form until now.

He declared the Arab Nasserist Party’s rejection to have the Presidential elections monitored by a committee headed by the speaker of People’s Assembly. It should be designated to a neutral entity, because it is not acceptable for the monitoring committee to under jurisdiction of the authority. He suggested it should comprise counselors from the Court of Cassation and the Supreme Administrative Court, and headed by the most senior counselor. Nominees would have the right to attend public meetings and use advertising stickers. It is also necessary to have an amended law for political practicing, not under the Constitution, but through certain legal formulation.

Hassan expressed his view that the latest amendments still have some disabling obstacles facing those who wish to nominate themselves for presidency, including the condition to obtain attestation from a certain percentage of members of selected council, which is difficult to obtain, particularly since the majority of them belong to the ruling party. There is also a financial problem which is not affordable to a regular nominee. This could open the door for external funds, and then it will be a motivator in the election process.

Activist George Ishak, member of the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya) said that the amendments announced by the political leadership came as a surprise. The political parties, including the Arab Nasserist Party, did not encourage amendment of the Constitution, which refused any constitutional amendment on the bases that amending could forfeit the gains of the July revolution and other political movements. Nevertheless, the demand for the amendment represented a remarkable change in the directions of political powers, which confirms that it was a result of pressures exercised by the Parties; different forces and political movements, which means, in Ishak’s view, that it is necessary for the Parties, civil society organizations, as well as the different political powers to have a leading position and destroy the shackles imposed by the ruling party on their activities, in order to make a difference, for what is better for political practicing, because no freedom can be obtained without sacrifices.

Ishak summarized the demands sought by the Kefaya Movement just as other movements towards change, which are canceling the Marshall Law and other ill-reputed laws, and opening all files that could result in radical change. The latest amendment of article 76 represents a beginning of a battle for constitutional and political change, and we must take advantage of this step to make the required change, asserting our devotion that they are not for inheritance or extension of presidency.

Nabil Abdul Fattah, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, stated the latest amendment does not target any reform in the real sense, and as a proof, the stipulation that nominees should obtain approval of 20% of the members of selected councils, represented in People’s Assembly, Shura Council and local councils, is a disabling obstacle, even if it were 2% or 3, as some demanded.

He added that there are doubts about the credibility and legitimacy of the Parliament because of a decision to invalidate membership of several members, which cannot be obtained with the approval of the Parliament for those who wish to nominate for presidency. The controls mentioned by the authority, are arbitrary attempts to block the political and public discussions about inheritance and political reform and its requirements, and this appeared in a media campaign that targeted the marketing of this unreal amendment, because the political game is only partial, and there are no chances of comprehensive reform.

Abdul Fattah stated that the amendment announced pertains to some articles of the constitution and not to reform, hence, the amendment does not touch on the essence of political or constitutional reform.

He criticized the Political Parties and said they suffer from political stagnation. This appeared in the response to the ruling party’s call to hold a national dialogue, and the demands of the parties were renounced, including the constitutional amendment. Subsequently, the parties blessed it again although it had no role in it, and they were set in a trap of searching for a personality that would win the general acceptance to be nominated for presidency. He asserted that the parties lacked a comprehensive vision on the political and constitutional reforms because of lack of knowledge about the comparative constitutions.

Abdul Fattah views that the amendments target to add legitimacy to President Mubarak’s fifth term, in order to close the door on any mention about inheritance, strongly prevailing in the political streets during the last period.

He denied that Egypt has a regime based on the concept of inheritance, but it is a strong political regime, thus, talking about inheritance is not justified, because, the notion of transferring authority is not a procedural issue, but is related to the Republican regime. In addition, Egypt is a respectable and reputable country with a strong political system that cannot be easily changed.

He also pointed out to the importance to demand a modernization of the Constitution so it allows for better political practice, and remedies the clear flaws in political performance, refusing the amendment by piece, which is more harmful than useful.

Negad El Boraie, Director of Group for Democratic Development (GDD) rejected the Constitutional amendment declared by President Mubarak, stating that amending the constitution in the present time would only result in a distorted weak constitution, because the opposition parties had to fight to prevent constitution amendment under the current Parliament and the dominion of the executive power on all aspects of the country. This was evident when Law 32 of 1964 for Private Organizations was cancelled by the Government, and a new law just as bad was issued.

He said that changing the constitution must come as an end to a long way of liberating the civil community. Demands must focus on freedom before democracy; on bursting out the existing energies in the community in preparation for selecting a foundational organization to establish a new constitution. All constitutions in Egypt since 1923 did not have a foundational committee.

However, Boraie mentioned our society is undergoing a state of real awakening, as evidenced by the President of the Nasserist party’s approval for potential cancellation of the 50% percentage for laborers and peasants, which represented a constraint facing the constitutional amendment. In addition, there are some indications about the approval of Muslim Brotherhood Group to cancel the second article of the constitution, stipulating that the Islamic Sharia be the source of legislation in the country.

Meanwhile, he asserted that the constitutional amendment has renewed the assertion that the opposition is dancing on the music of the government, that their steps are always reactions to the government steps and decisions.

He stressed the importance of initiating freedom of the press, expression of opinion, journalism, and privatization of radio and television, stating that amending article 76 of the constitution must be dealt with in a limited way because no one shared in that decision.

He also doubted the legitimacy of the current Parliament and the next one as well, and said that the danger of amending the constitution is running in the same framework of other Arab countries like Yemen and Tunisia.

Amending article 76 of the constitution related to period of presidency must go simultaneously with the President’s decision to take one of two choices, either to allow himself all mandatory powers, which he already has, and to be accountable to the Parliament, or to keep away and limit his jurisdiction to lower limits, which makes the Prime Minister accountable to the Parliament, while the President would be a judge between powers. He called for a study of the armed forces problems in the Egyptian political system, indicating that change in Egypt since Orabi revolution happened only through the army or external interference, however, there is hope in rejuvenating the political system and introducing new elements, because we cannot bear the consequences of disorganized collapse of this system.

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