In Ibn Roshd Salon: Lawmen and politicians warn about the return of referendum system under the mask of elections

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

The experience of dealing with the Egyptian political system and the successive governments during the past years, lead many politicians, intellectuals, and lawyers to receive every decision issued by the system, or every step taken, with many questions, and sometimes, doubts and fears, and they tend to search for ambiguities of that decision or step, mainly because the political system in Egypt is not used to share with its people or main powers the decisions made.

This situation has clearly materialized in handling President Mubarak’s decree to amend article 76 of the Constitution related to how the President is chosen. It is the decision that was considered a big surprise and an upheaval; it was considered by many as the end of the road towards reform process. He indicated that in order to add real value to the amendment, it has to be accompanied by a series of measures, primarily, is to end the state of emergency and to offer guarantees for free and fair elections, and to offer freedoms of activities to the parties, to remove the siege imposed on them and shackles on peaceful activities of the people, to end the domination of the ruling parties over media and to release the freedom of publishing newspapers and freedom of expression, to provide equal opportunity to all parties to reach media, the right to obtain information and amend laws of practicing political rights which would provide some elements of a good environment, adequate for real political competition and not only in appearance.

Experts assert that such demands are necessary to be implemented so that there would be no referendum under the mask of election. Within the framework of these demands, a seminar was held with the title “in order not to have referendum under mask of election, after consecrating the one party through multiple parties”, organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and headed by Bahey El Din Hassan, Director. He asked if the initiative to amend article 76 of the constitution could lead us actually to select a President through direct free elections, or is this a referendum process that takes the appearance of elections?

He indicated that what poses these questions and many others, are the thoughts that came from the leaders of the ruling party as materialization of Mubarak’s initiative on the land of reality. Some of these thoughts include the necessity to set the condition about the seriousness for nomination for presidency. He asked what are the standards set about the seriousness and their existence in any of the nominees. He tied those thoughts with what is happening in Tunis to select the President. Monitors of elections state that the current Tunisian President Zein El Abdeen Bin Ali nominates himself and selects his opponents; accordingly, the result was that every time he won the elections between 94 and 97%.

He added that what raises fears in Egypt are those matters related to the equal opportunities given to candidates for presidency to access media in particular, and whether the election confrontations in case of absence of these opportunities, are like a competition between a hero and novice actors around him to complete the picture.

He further expressed his fears from the continued state of emergency which imposes wide restrictions on the activities of the public and the parties, which made the opposition parties incapable to expropriate approval on holding a public conference any place. He wondered about the situation with presidency elections and situations in normal times.

Hassan also talked about another objective condition lacking in Egypt, namely, the political life, which he described as almost dead since half a century, where no paramount personality emerged that could be considered national, known at the national level beside the President of State. He inquired if the short period until next October is sufficient for this personality to emerge? and even if there is opportunity to reach media, and to cancel emergency state, the remaining period prevents achieving real competition in elections.

Inappropriate Climate
Dr. Tharwat Badawi, professor of Public Law, Faculty of Law- Cairo University, started his address by saying that given the disaster entailed in the President’s initiative to amend the Constitution, and not just hiding behind the mask of free democratic elections, the purpose of the amendment is to enforce and ensure the absolute authorities actually given to the President. The issue is not in the short time remaining for the candidates, or in the attempt to take the initiative out of its content to place obstacles for those candidates, but the issue is that the current climate does not allow anyone else except President Mubarak to sweep the elections by more than 90%.

Badawi assured that real elections cannot be conducted except in a free democratic climate, to offer complete freedoms to citizens without discrimination, not just to cancel the state of emergency, but to organize powers that each would have specific authorities; to segregate between authorities, which would enable each one to observe over others, and also to be accountable to it, or that all those ruling and rulers would submit to the authority of the law. Concentrating all authorities in the hands of one person cannot bring about a true candidate, but only those wishing to cause explosions and propaganda, or those “fans of” entering all elections.

He indicated he has been fighting the referendum system since 1958 since the publishing of his book “the political systems” in the same year. He explained that the systems of dictatorship resort to such methods, like referendum, to claim they are democratic systems. He called for uniting all efforts from to convince President Mubarak that it is time to establish a true democratic system and to make democratic change as soon as possible, because the internal political conditions are more than inviting for external interference in our internal affairs.

Dr. Badawi further stated that if Egypt does not adopt real democratic change, it will be threatened to be doomed like Iraq, particularly under an American/Zionist plan since more than half a century, which targets destroying everything, and destroying Egypt and other Arab countries, so that America and Israel will have complete control over them.

Dr. Badawi demanded that we should abstain from entering the Presidential elections and go to President Mubarak to change the Constitution in its entirety. He indicated that the political system must be based on a group of systems, bases, organizations, and interrelated and harmonized conditions, so that a good harmonized regime would be established. The political system would not survive without all these binding, homogenous and stable bases.

The Political Environment
Abdullah Khalil, attorney and expert in human rights, stressed the importance of changing the political environment of the elections. He mentioned what is called the ten links to conduct free and fair elections, as defined by observers of elections. The first of such conditions is the principle of indiscrimination; to place a condition for seriousness of nomination is contradictory to the principle of indiscrimination stipulated in international standards.

He presented the ten conditions and how they relate to the reality in Egypt. He said that the second of such conditions is the principle of freedom of opinion; and freedom of expression of such opinions. There are laws in Egypt that confiscate such rights, starting with laws of education, charters of student unions that confiscate political participation from the beginning in Egypt, added to that is the huge expansion in incrimination in the penal code and confiscation of newspaper publication rights, State ownership of the national newspapers, in addition to other laws such as the law of secrecy of documents, since actually freedom of expression in Egypt means secrecy rather than freedom.

Among the conditions for fair elections is equal access to media and neutral media coverage of elections, matters that are lacking in Egypt. It is important for human rights to prevail in peaceful gathering, and in equal election demonstrations, which is also lacking in the Egyptian political environment, since there are laws that prevent them such as the law of public assembly.

He continued mentioning the conditions, including the actual independence of judicial system, not only verbally. He referred to the seriousness of “judicial monitoring” used in Egypt. The State deals with this matter with the Public and Administrative Persecution as being among the judicial professions. He added the rest of the conditions deal with the entity to formulate the parties and how they conduct their electoral activities such as educating the voters, which are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior.

He ended these conditions with two important ones; canceling or suspending prevailing laws which could impact on frustrating the political partnership, such as the martial Law in Egypt, in addition to securing the freedom of those participating in the elections, to practice their freedoms without fear or terrorizing from the outcasts, or violence on the part of security authority.

He asserted that the Parliament in Egypt is the product of a corrupt climate; accordingly, it will only produce standards and conditions that clearly show this corruption in defining the guarantees for Presidency nomination.

Dr. Mustafa Kamel Alsayed, Professor of Political Science at Cairo University and the American University in Egypt, also doubted that the amended article 76 of the constitution would create real fair elections. In order to avoid the Tunis model and draw near the Palestinian model, we can consider this amendment as a beginning to remedy a subject for dialogue in the country, and an opportunity for the political powers to adopt a clear and comprehensive vision of democratic change in Egypt.

Conducting free and fair elections require that the right to nominate for presidency be accessible to all Egyptians, provided they have good reputation. No one can agree with the efforts of Dr. Fathi Serour, Chairman of the People’s Assembly, in limiting the nomination for presidency to leadership of political parties represented in the People’s Assembly and Shura Council, with the idea that this condition targets the exclusion of the Moslem Brothers Organization from nominations for presidency.

Dr. Alsayed said that the nominee for presidency should obtain attestation from the citizens and not from the People’s Assembly, Shura or local councils, dominated by the National Party. It was said by one of its leaders that “corruption in the local councils reached to the knees”.

Dr. Alsayed added that forming the committee to observe the elections in the manner announced is really funny, particularly when the President of the committee is the Chairman of the People’s Assembly, who is also a leader in the ruling party. His allegation about the observance of the French Constitutional Council over the French elections in France is not accurate because of the difference in situations between Egypt and France. The French Constitutional Council has 9 members, 3 of which are appointed by the House of Representatives, as well as the President of the national organization; the President of the Senate appoints 3 others, in addition to the membership of the former Presidents in the council.

He emphasized that it is important to maintain neutrality in the government bodies with its different ministries in the election battle, in addition to neutrality of the Police Department. He referred to obvious interference in the latest elections of the People’s Assembly.

He was astonished about conducting the Presidential elections in one day, which would not enable the best observance of the elections, given the importance of the event of electing the head of State, the cornerstone in the Egyptian political system. He also inquired about the position of the radio and television in Egypt, which are the main tools for propagating elections.

He asserted that continuing with the martial Law is not justified. What is more important is to respect human rights. Absence of this matter negates any seriousness in the direction towards political reform. He referred to the absence of some national figures, and said that in the days of Jamal Abdul Nasser, and through the Socialist Union, there were some figures that could be considered national figures, which have not completely vanished. He attributed that to the government’s drying off of the sources that bring about these figures by canceling elections in universities and villages, and freezing the elections in vocational syndicates.

The Egyptian syndicates’ leaders are in fact the public figures that have earned their positions with hard work, conviction and dialogue. He asserted that activating the mechanism of elections at all levels is sufficient to produce leaders at all standards.

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